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Workers clear wreckage of derailed Conrail cars

by David Zucchino and Dominic Sama, Inquirer Staff Writers

About 100 Amtrack workers used cranes and bulldozers yesterday to clear the wreckage of 24 freight cars that derailed near the Paoli railroad station Sunday afternoon.

Inspectors from Amtrack and Conrail were still trying to determine the cause of the derailment which shut down most commuter traffic across four tracks from Sunday afternoon through parts of the morning rush hour yesterday.

No injuries were reported. Conrail officials said yesterday that they did not have a dollar estimate for the damage to the freight cars.

The 125-car Conrail freight train was running from Harrisburg to Camden when it derailed about a quarter mile west of Paoli station. Firefighters from the Paoli and Malvern fire departments kept a stream of water on about 10 gallons of hydrogen peroxide that leaked on the railbed from an 8,000-gallon tank.

Laird Slade, a spokesman for DuPont Chemical Co. in Wilmington, said the hydrogen peroxide was being moved between two DuPont facilities. The tank car, owned by DuPont, was righted by DuPont workers Sunday night and the liquid was transported by truck.

Hydrogen peroxide is a colorless liquid used as a bleaching and disinfecting agent. It is highly flammable, and by putting water on the spilled liquid the strength of the chemical was diluted. The Hydrogen Peroxide that spilled was about a 30 percent solution, or about 10 times stronger than the 3 percent solution sold in drugstores.

Steve Oxenfeldt, 38, who owns Subtle Dynamics, an auto supply house at 215 Plank Avenue about 50 feet from the accident site, said it was common to see trains bobbing on the tracks.

"This accident really didn't surprise me," he said. "We've been expecting something like this to happen. We've seen seen freight trains snaking, bobbing and even leaning. Many times they'd bob up and down by several inches while on the track.

Commuter service of SEPTA's Paoli line was halted until 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Trains ran a few minutes late during the early part of the morning rush hour yesterday, then ran about 20 minutes late from about 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. before normal schedules were resumed, said Joe Harvey, a manager in the Conrail-SEPTA commuter office.

Conrail commuter service between Paoli and Philadelphia and Amtrack service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia resumed at about 11 a.m. yesterday according to Lois Morasco, an Amtrack spokeswoman.

The cleanup operation was expected to continue through last night an Amtrack official said. Workers on the site said they were having difficulty removing two hopper cars loaded with about 200,000 pounds of fine white sand used in glassmaking.

Philadelphia Inquirer 9/30/1980