East Palestine Has a Long History with Train Accidents

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Situated on both sides of the railroad tracks, when you live in East Palestine you grow accustomed to the sounds of train clatter and whistles near crossings.

The town is also not unaccustomed to an occasional tragedy when a pedestrian or a vehicle has been struck on the tracks by a train. Since the death of a Newell, W.Va., woman in her car in 2016, there have been memorial flowers marking the spot near the North Pleasant Street crossing not far from the scene of Friday’s derailment.

While nothing compares in scope or magnitude to the latest train derailment that left 50 cars, including five containing an explosive chemical, vinyl chloride, scattered across both tracks, those who have lived in town for years remember vividly when a train derailed in 1970.

Pat Springer was a high school senior at the time, and her family lived just south of the Brookdale Avenue bridge.

“We lived right at the bottom of that bridge on Main Street. It was early morning, and we were sitting at the breakfast table and we heard just the loudest sound that you can even imagine. [My dad] ran outside. He knew immediately it was something with the railroad. He ran up the hill, and the bridge was out.”

Springer said there was no fire that she can remember, and the bridge was out for at least a year, which was how she had always walked from her house to East Palestine High School north of the tracks.

“I always get nervous when I have to cross that bridge,” Springer said.

The scene of a train derailment in East Palestine in 1970. (Photo courtesy of Pat Springer)

Her father took slides of the wreck, which caused a pileup of new cars scattered underneath the bridge and along the tracks. A newspaper account of the derailment in the Washington Court House Record-Herold noted there were 18 train cars derailed from a 126-car train.

Gary Clark, former East Palestine police chief and village manager, also remembers that derailment. He, too, was a senior at the time. He believes the vehicles were Dodge cars, and one of them may have broken loose, slid sideways on the carrier and clipped one of the two pillars that held the bridge up. The bridge fell on top of the train.

“Brand new cars were flung everywhere,” Clark said.

During his years in East Palestine, Clark recalls several derailments. He remembers there was a westbound Amtrack train that went off the tracks and into a factory building near the James Street crossing in deep snow. Newspapers from 1973 detail an Amtrack derailment of five cars that killed one and left 19 injured.

He said he also remembers a time there was a minor derailment near East Palestine China on the west end of town. Clark said the railroad had been owned by the Penn-Central Railroad, which started experiencing financial problems at the time, and there were concerns the tracks were not being maintained.

Friday’s derailment is only the latest and, in recent memory, the worst in the town surrounding the tracks. As of Wednesday morning, no word has been given as to when evacuated residents on the east side of town between Market Street, East Highland Avenue and Jimtown Road will be able to return to their homes. A press conference has been tentatively scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Norfolk Southern is rapidly cleaning up the scene of the wreckage and reported Tuesday it had all but one of the 50 train cars moved off the tracks. New tracks are being laid, and soon trains will once again be clattering their way through East Palestine.

Pictured at top: The scene of a train derailment in East Palestine in 1970. (Photo courtesy of Pat Springer)

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