Investigators say a "freak coincidence" is the preliminary explanation for two separate freight train derailments that happened just a day apart in the Buffalo area.
Monday, a 33-year-old motorist narrowly escaped serious injury as he drove along Bailey Avenue in Buffalo when a train traveling overhead on a railroad bridge derailed, sending a light standard crashing down onto the street and smashing the front of the man's minivan, police reported.
The Buffalo man was released after treatment in Erie County Medical Center.
Sunday, no one was injured when a train derailment in Cheektowaga sent a boxcar crashing onto Union Road and left a second car teetering over the edge of a railroad bridge.
The Federal Railroad Administration has been called in to investigate the two derailments.
"Most train derailments are caused by the track, because, just like a highway, it is an exposed infrastructure that can break and undergo stresses," said Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the Washington-based agency. "There have been no such findings of broken rails on these tracks that I have been made aware of."
Flatau also said there is no indication the two derailments are related, adding that the two trains "were not on the same line, and they were not the same carrier."
The two incidents prompted some concerned citizens to question whether the region's railways are safe, but railroad experts say they perform regular repairs and inspections to ensure safety.
"I'm afraid someone's going to get killed or hurt," said Bertha Hyde, a South Buffalo resident, who says she sees severe rot and rust on the foundations of several railroad bridges across the city.
Railroad industry officials cautioned residents against jumping to conclusions based on their observations because it takes the trained eye of a bridge engineer to analyze a bridge's conditions.
"We really shouldn't be speculating or implying the condition of a bridge unless you have a background on bridge engineering," said Rudy Husband, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern.
"We inspect the tracks at least twice a week, and we do comprehensive bridge inspections annually."
From January 2005 to September 2006, there were 18 train derailments in Erie County, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics. Sixteen of those happened in the rail yard, while the remaining two occurred on the main line of the track, statistics show.
At 4:21 a.m. Monday, a Canadian Pacific Railway freight train was heading from Toronto to Binghamton when it derailed near the Norfolk Southern yard, according to Randy Marsh, a spokesman for Canadian Pacific, which was operating on Norfolk Southern's line at the time of the derailment.
Three cars on the 55-car train jumped the track -- two tipped on their side, while the third remained upright, said Marsh. Two contained wood pulp and the other held grain.
"They were slowing down to stop and change crews when at that point they noticed that three cars at the end of the train had derailed," said Marsh.
Lt. Patrick Roberts said a motorist was traveling south on Bailey, near William Street, when the accident happened.
"When the train derailed it pulled down a power line," said Roberts. "The hanging wire pulled the [light standard] down onto Bailey and in turn struck the passing motorist."
Buffalo police closed a section of Bailey in both directions for several hours as crew cleaned up the scene and railway workers investigated.
Meanwhile, CSX workers were still trying to find the cause of another train derailment Sunday that sent hundreds of cans of mixed vegetables spilling onto the street.
CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said train accidents have decreased dramatically on both lines nationwide.
"Our safety record is very improved in recent years," said Sullivan. "That improvement in safety is a result of work we do on track maintainence, inspections and training."
On Oct. 19, there was a train derailment on that same stretch of Union Road when one car jumped the tracks and knocked a section of guardrail onto Union Road, hitting a vehicle, said Sullivan.
Monday, Paige Wangler, the motorist, said she was driving her SUV south on Union, approaching the railroad bridge, when a 3-foot-long piece of sharp metal from the guardrail flew off the bridge and smashed onto her SUV.
"I saw the train wiggle and the guardrail wiggle, and I knew it was going to fall," Wangler said Monday. "I sped up trying to get underneath before it fell."
The chunk of metal smashed onto the top of her Dodge Durango SUV, shattering the back window, and crashed into the passenger side panel. CSX officials settled the damage claim and Wagler was paid the entire $3,000 cost of repairing her vehicle.
News Staff Reporter T.J. Pignataro contributed to this report. e-mail: email@example.com