More than 500 customers were without power and several roads were closed early Wednesday morning after a coal train derailed in Belleville.
The derailment on Frank Scott Parkway West between Foley Drive and West Main Street left cars perpendicular to the track and piled like bricks.
Just down Frank Scott Parkway, Memorial Hospital was running on backup power. Althoff Catholic High School canceled classes for the day. An Ameren spokesman said the company hoped to have power restored to customers by noon Wednesday.
Bonnie Isler, who owns a nail salon on South 59th Street, said there were “booms of light, a lot of shaking” when the train went off the tracks. Isler was not hurt, but said part of her property was “totally ripped out.”
“At the end, when all of these cars were hitting together, they just made the most unbelievable, loud sound. You can see all the metal, and then the poles really started sparking, big-time,” Isler said. “It almost sounded like an unbelieveable thunderstorm and lightning, but it was far worse than that.”
Another witness, Frankie Blackmon, said the train woke him up. Blackmon also lives on South 59th Street.
“It felt like an earthquake,” he said. “And all you saw was all the power go ‘boom.’ We had no idea what happened until we saw the train off the tracks.”
The Belleville Fire Department said the derailment happened at 1:48 a.m.
It was a Norfolk Southern train with three locomotives and 125 loaded coal cars. Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said 11 coal cars derailed, damaging some utility poles and power lines.
Terpay said Ameren Illinois workers were making sure power lines were not live before Norfolk Southern could begin putting the cars back on the tracks.
“The derailment is impacting several railroad crossings in Belleville. We will be working as quickly as possible to open those crossings to traffic,” Terpay said in an email.
The Belleville Fire Department said there were no injuries. Firefighters and officers from the Belleville Police Department and St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office, along with members of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, were working at the derailment.
Officials asked the public to avoid the area as a safety precaution.
Officials said it could take 24 to 48 hours to clean up the debris along the railroad line.
The county’s EMA Facebook page said the following roads were shut down Wednesday morning:
- Frank Scott Parkway at West Main
- Frank Scott Parkway at North Belt West
- Foley at 70th Street
- Mitchell Lane at Foley
- North Belt West at Freedom Drive
At the scene Wednesday morning, the derailed coal cars were stacked up perpendicular to each other and the rails, while other cars on the tracks were stacked up against each other. Other coal cars ahead of the derailment area — cars in the middle of the train were the ones that derailed — were sitting on the track, with the train stopped. The last car in the front part of the train was off the tracks.
The rails at the site of the accident were twisted like ribbon, while workers brought large equipment to the scene in advance of the work to right the derailed cars and remove them.
The train was heading toward the central area of town when it derailed.
A parking lot at a nearby business, Negwer Materials, was being used as a staging area for emergency teams from Ameren, the rail company and rescue workers. The derailment was right next to the business, which was formerly Hill-Behan Lumber Co.
Other schools were open for classes Wednesday in the general area of the derailment, and were unaffected by the power outages in the area. That included Our Lady Queen of Peace parochial school and schools in the Harmony-Emge District 175.
In Illinois, St. Clair County has had the second-highest number of train accidents from Oct. 2011 through July 2016, the most recent data from the Federal Railroad Administration's Office of Safety Analysis. Norfolk Southern was responsible for one of the 60 accidents during that period.
In the past five years, Illinois has had 833 train accidents, 60 of which were in St. Clair County. Nearly half of the 833 were in Cook County. The federal data excludes highway-crossing accidents.
Of the accidents in St. Clair County, 41 were train derailments, six were collisions and 13 were classified as other types. No one was injured or killed.
The total reported damage from train accidents in Illinois in the past five years was nearly $90 million, of which $3.8 million was in St. Clair County.
Norfolk Southern has had 53 total accidents in Illinois since 2013, according to data. Only one previous Norfolk Southern accident was in St. Clair County, in 2014. Cook County was the site of 17 of those accidents, and Macon County, where Decatur is, was the site of 19.
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