By KIM SMITH DEDAM
ESSEX — A Canadian Pacific Railway freight train derailed about 8:45 a.m. Saturday near where the tracks cross Route 22 in Essex about three miles west of Lake Champlain.
Freighter number 251 was northbound from Saratoga to Montreal when 12 of 33 cars went off the tracks.
Two overturned tanker cars carried chemicals — methylene chloride, a paint remover, and methyl bromide, an insecticide — according to Essex County emergency services Deputy Director Don Jaquish.
The potential for chemical spill set county HazMat response teams in motion and two homes near the wreck were evacuated as standard operating procedure.
The HazMat equipment trailer and about 10 trained first responders reached the area shortly before 11 a.m.
A crew of eight from the county squad suited up and went to inspect the cars for leakage.
By 1 p.m., they determined the chemical tanks had not been ruptured in the incident.
But pressure valves on top of the methylene chloride tanker were buried when the car overturned, keeping HazMat crews there awaiting arrival of the railroad company’s wrecker.
“We’re concerned whether or not those valves were broken,” Jaquish said.
Special side-winder machines used to reset freight cars were en route from Pennsylvania by midday Saturday, officials said.
Nearby residents reported hearing the train squeal to a halt and saw the locomotive catch fire.
Lisa and Calvin Cumm live beside the tracks and were evacuated soon after the derailment.
“It was screeching really loud,” Lisa said. “I thought they were cleaning the tracks.”
Her son told her the train locomotive was on fire.
“He saw smoke and flames. The train guys came and borrowed rakes from us to put it out.”
Soon ambulance and fire trucks were pulling into the driveway, Lisa said.
“The whole train starts tipping behind our shop and every car forward. The firemen told us we had to get out. They didn’t know how dangerous it was.”
Tilly Pierce lives about a quarter-mile from the Route 22 crossing and said her 9-year-old twin grandsons were out riding bikes watching the train go by.
Chase Pierce said he heard a loud screeching sound and watched the train slowly halt.
“I always like to see a train; I always count the cars,” Chase said. “Then it made a loud screech and stopped in the road.”
“I knew something was going to happen because it slowed down,” Cole said.
Essex resident Jimmy Lee saw the locomotive on fire and called 911 from a cell phone.
The last four or five cars on the train blocked Route 22 at the railroad crossing for hours Saturday.
The road is a primary thoroughfare for Lake Champlain ferry traffic and was busy with Memorial Day travelers.
Canadian Pacific Rail was planning to pull the cars away from the intersection once the chemical cars were secured, said Essex Fire Chief Dave Lansing.
“They are going to bring up a light engine and pull those four or five cars at the end of the train out of the way. But first we have to make sure the chemical cars are safe.”
Officials from the rail company could not be reached Saturday for comment.
George Daly, Port Henry fire chief, organized the HazMat response at Saturday’s incident, putting a well-practiced plan in motion.
Two groups of four investigated using a thermal-imaging camera to check for hot spots or hidden fire.
Jaquish said the tankers were less than 10 percent full — considered “empty” by the railroad — when they overturned. He characterized the perimeter of the area as a “moderate risk.”
“For people working on the train, it could be a severe risk,” he said.
The Center for Disease Control lists methylene chloride as a paint thinner used to clean electronic boards and metal parts. High levels of exposure can cause fainting and irregular heartbeats that could result in death.
CDC lists methyl bromide as a gaseous toxic pesticide that is a severe pulmonary irritant and neurotoxin. There is no antidote for methyl bromide poisoning, but its effects can be treated.
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org