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Train derailments: Looking at track defects

On a snowy morning in February 2014, a Norfolk Southern freight train snaked east through rural Westmoreland County with 83 of its cars loaded with crude oil.

It was cruising at about 30 mph near Vandergrift when it hit a section of track where the rail was slightly too far apart. The spikes designed to hold the rails in place were missing or defective, according to preliminary company-reported federal data. 

The train derailed, violently tossing 21 cars — 19 carrying crude oil, two carrying propane — from the tracks. The force punctured four cars and spilled 4,300 gallons of oil across the banks of the Kiskiminetas River.

All told, Pennsylvania’s largest crude oil spill since 1990 caused more than $2 million in damage.

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