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Federal agency to begin probe of overpasses after 2 derailments

The Federal Railroad Administration next week will launch an investigation into the safety of local railroad overpasses following two recent train derailments, one Dec. 10 in Cheektowaga and the other the next day in Buffalo.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said he requested the probe after what he called "a startling pattern of train mishaps" in Western New York.

"Over the last 18 months, there have been 18 train derailments, including [the last two in Cheektowaga and Buffalo]. Given the age of Buffalo's track infrastructure and our harsh winters, I felt there was a basis to have the Federal Railroad Administration come in and do an investigation. They have concurred and plan to start their investigation next week and conclude it in approximately four weeks," Higgins said Wednesday.

Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, confirmed that the investigation will commence next week.

"We are going to be surveying area bridges and reviewing the railroad records of the carriers that own tracks concerning bridge inspections," Flatau said.

That will include the railroad carriers' safety records, the methods they employ to ensure safety, maintenance schedules, as well as records of recent repairs and replacements along the tracks.

Flatau said the agency, created by the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966, is responsible for enforcing rail safety regulations that include tracks, signal and control systems, railroad operating rules, equipment and the transport of hazardous materials.

"There are no bridge regulations, per se, but we do inspect tracks on bridges and bridge policy that governs the steps railroads need to take on a routine basis to ensure their structural integrity," Flatau said.

On Dec. 10, a CSX train carrying cans of mixed vegetables derailed on an overpass in Cheektowaga, leaving one boxcar teetering on the edge of a railroad bridge and sending a second onto Union Road.
The following day, a motorist driving along Bailey Avenue in Buffalo narrowly escaped injury when a train traveling on a railroad bridge overhead derailed, sending a light standard crashing down onto the street and smashing the front end of the motorist's minivan.

"This investigation will yield valuable information about whether these incidents resulted from issues related to the safety and the condition of the tracks, or if something else is causing these derailments," said Higgins.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., recently announced that he will reintroduce a comprehensive rail-safety bill calling for a nationwide overhaul of degrading railroad lines. The bill also calls for doubling the number of Federal Railroad Administration safety inspectors and increasing the fines on the owners of delinquent railroad companies.


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