Ashley Bound heard the screeching of metal, then saw a curtain of sparks and debris cascading from a McKeesport train trestle into the water around her.
“You could tell the wheels were not on the rail, even before the crash,” said Bound, 23, of Elizabeth. “We were in a boat about 50 feet away and when I saw all the sparks, I said: ‘I don’t think that’s supposed to happen.’ I was freaking out. It was scary.”
Bound and her friends witnessed a CSX Transportation train derail on a trestle near the Jerome Street Bridge at 10:56 p.m. Saturday. Ten of the 88 cars derailed, officials said, including three that hung above the Youghiogheny River on Sunday.
No one was injured, and no chemicals spilled, officials said. Most of the cars were empty or carrying scrap metal; one contained “light petroleum,” but it remained upright and did not leak, CSX spokesman Gary Sease said.
Investigators are trying to determine what caused the crash, but that could take days or weeks, Sease said.
Bound said the CSX train appeared to be traveling faster than others. Sease did not know the train’s speed but said it would be part of the investigation.
Officials on site speculated that a switch malfunction caused the crash. Sease declined to discuss specifics.
“We’ll look at everything,” he said.
Crews plan to use cranes to move the derailed containers, Sease said. The process will take at least a day.
On Sunday, crews laid out containment booms in the water to guard against debris or chemicals falling into the water during removal, Sease said.
“They’ll be very busy for the next 24 hours,” Sease said. “After that, we don’t know.”
On Sunday night, crews still had to remove two derailed cars and repair the track. Authorities said they hope to reopen the track to train traffic on Monday.
The train was traveling from New Castle to Connellsville, officials said.
“There’s a lot of damage to the tracks,” McKeesport Deputy Fire Chief Don Sabol said. “A lot of broken ties. It’s twisted up.”
Authorities closed the McKeesport Marina below the trestle. A city River Rescue crew stopped boaters from getting too close.
Some nearby roads were closed, including River Road, where a pile of debris — such as shredded railroad ties and wire — fell from the trestle.
One track on the trestle was not damaged. Other trains eventually will be allowed to pass at slow speeds, but delays are expected, officials said.
Throughout the day, spectators gathered on the Jerome Street Bridge to get a bird’s-eye view of the wreckage below while CSX crews surveyed the damage.
“They’re just lucky these things didn’t go off and kill somebody,” said Lenny Tate, 47, of McKeesport.
Donald Jancic, 55, lives near the trestle. His house is so close to the tracks that passing trains come within 18 inches of his house, he said.
“There was a thunderous boom,” Jancic said. “I hear the trains all the time, living so close to the tracks. But wow! I never heard a train sound like that before. It was like metal clanging.”
Staff writer Jennifer Vertullo contributed to this report. Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or [email protected].