NEW BRITAIN - The Pam Am Railways train derailment in December was caused by improperly maintained tracks, city officials learned Thursday.
“We said from the beginning - how often are they coming out to inspect and maintain this line that runs through the heart of downtown?” Mayor Erin Stewart said.
City officials were notified that the Federal Railroad Administration determined that the cross ties in that area of track had rotted and widened, causing the track itself to widen - a potential hazard that in this case caused a derailment. The railway was issued a violation of federal track safety standards as part of the findings of the months-long investigation, Stewart also said.
The news that the FRA has come to a conclusion on what caused the derailment is a double-edged sword for city officials, Stewart acknowledged. On the one hand, the city can now seek reimbursement from Pan Am Railways, which owns the tracks, for the nearly $80,000 in expenses incurred in the cleanup of the disaster.
On the other, the conclusion brings up questions on how to prevent a similar derailment from happening again.
“I want assurances made that this track is safe and that fixes have been made and that this won’t happen again,” said Stewart, who pointed out that the city was lucky that no one was killed or injured.
A freight train with seven or eight cars full of construction debris derailed on the tracks along Columbus Boulevard on Dec. 6. Police reported seeing drivers moving into the other lane as the train cars slowly tipped on their side and spilled debris into the roadway. The derailment took three days to clean up with traffic stalled in the area of Columbus Boulevard and Chestnut Street, home to two busy shopping areas.
The city has waited more than nine months for payment from Pan Am which refused to dish up the money until the investigation was complete. The railway had initially self-reported to the FRA that Cherry Hill Construction had overloaded the train cars with debris, which the railway said could have caused the crash.
A worker from Cherry Hill Construction told The Herald in December that the wooden “sleepers” that hold the tracks together were “rotten and older than you and I” as Pan Am employees worked to replace the track after the derailment.
Pan Am’s Chief Commercial Officer Mike Bostwick referred all comment to Cindy Scarano, the company’s executive vice president. Scarano did not return phone calls from The Herald.
The city’s Assistant Corporation Counsel Joseph Skelly sent Pan Am officials an email Thursday afternoon seeking reimbursement for the derailment. “Since the cause of the derailment has been established, we are requesting to renew settlement discussions immediately,” Skelly said. He ended the email with, “I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.”
Staff writer Skyler Frazer contributed to this story.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.