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UPDATE: NTSB reviews data, image recorders from 3-train collision, derailment

A specialized excavator helps take apart and stack sections of track.
Ryan Gaylor
A Norfolk Southern worker disassembles tracks Sunday morning near a derailment in Lower Saucon Twp.

LOWER SAUCON TWP., Pa. — Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board continued work Sunday to determine why three freight trains collided and derailed near Steel City on Saturday morning.

Shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday, an eastbound freight train operated by Norfolk Southern hit another train stopped on the same tracks, according to the NTSB.

“The area where the locomotives were in the water will remain contained with booms until any residual sheen has been removed."
Norfolk Southern spokesperson

The collision pushed several railcars onto neighboring tracks and into the path of an oncoming westbound train.

NTSB investigators arrived in Lower Saucon on Saturday afternoon, according to agency spokeswoman Sarah Sulick. In addition to mechanically examining the derailed cars, officials retrieved video from inward- and outward-facing cameras on each train, operations and control data from recorders in each locomotive, and logs stored by trackside signals.

The team of investigators is made up of “experts in train operations, signals and train control, and human performance,” she wrote in a statement.

By Sunday morning, the NTSB had released control of the site to Norfolk Southern, freeing crews to pull two locomotives from the river bank and partially in the Lehigh River.

Cleanup crews with a Norfolk Southern subcontractor, Lewis Environmental, were visible working near yellow floating booms in the water to contain spilled diesel fuel.

Train derails in Lower Saucon Township
Nancy Run Fire Company
Train engines on the bank of the Lehigh River, partially submerged, after a derailment Saturday, March 2, 2024, off Riverside Drive in Lower Saucon Township.
norfolk southern derailment response
Ryan Gaylor
Two divots are visible along the Lehigh River Sunday morning where a pair of locomotives came to rest after derailing.

“The area where the locomotives were in the water will remain contained with booms until any residual sheen has been removed,” a Norfolk Southern spokesperson wrote in an email.

Plastic pellets also spilled into the river, Lower Saucon Police Chief Thomas Barndt said Saturday, but there was no risk of hazardous material being released by the derailment.

No injuries were reported as a result of the collision.

Norfolk Southern crews were working to remove the tracks affected by the derailment, stacking them along the side of the right-of-way.

NTSB investigators will remain in the Lehigh Valley for several more days, Sulick said, chiefly to interview Norfolk Southern crew members involved in the crash.

Cleanup to take days, cause a year or two

Cleanup is likely to take several days, officials said yesterday.

The NTSB will release a preliminary report on the accident in about three weeks, to include "factual information gathered during the initial phase of the investigation," said Sulick. A final report laying out exactly what caused the accident will take one to two years.

“We were very, very, very fortunate.”
Lower Saucon Township Council President Priscilla deLeon

While each investigation is different, NTSB personnel are typically on site for about a week.

Riverside Drive will remain closed east of Steel City while the wreckage is cleared, Lower Saucon Township Council President Priscilla deLeon said.

That gives residents only one way in and out of town.

DeLeon said she has long worried that a train carrying hazardous materials would crash near Steel City.

“We were very, very, very fortunate,” she said, that none of the railcars thrown from their tracks Saturday were carrying dangerous cargo.

Staff writer Tom Shortell contributed to this report.