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Two crew members injured as freight train derails, catches fire near Attica

Two crew members were injured when a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying automobiles derailed and caught fire Thursday in a rural area in the Town of Attica not far from Attica Central High School, emergency officials in Wyoming County reported Thursday evening.

Chief Jay Myers of the Attica Volunteer Fire Department, who was joined at a news briefing by Wyoming County Sheriff Gregory J. Rudolph and Anthony P. Santoro, the county’s director of emergency management, identified the injured crew members as a conductor and an engineer.

Both men were taken to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, according to Rudolph, in a statement about the incident.

Jonathan Glass, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said their injuries were not life-threatening.

The derailment on the eastbound train was reported at 4:03 p.m., Rudolph said Thursday evening.

Glass at Norfolk Southern said there were 9 train cars and two engines involved in the crash.

The train comprised two engines and 43 freight cars loaded with automobiles, the railroad spokesman said.

A fire began in one of the engines, Myers said at the news conference, and it came to rest about 50 feet from the track. Photographs posted online by nearby residents showed billows of heavy black smoke.

Myers said the engines were carrying about 2,225 gallons of diesel fuel and that firefighters had been advised to let the fire burn itself out.

"The lead engine is on fire," Myers said, in a statement released by officials Thursday, "and in coordination with the Norfolk Southern, the engine will remain burning, primarily due to the difficult location of the derailment."

Several fire departments and hazmat units responded to the scene, Santoro said, along with State Police and emergency service personnel from Wyoming and Genesee counties. Portions of East Main Street Road and Route 238 east of the Village of Attica were closed to traffic for about six hours.

The track is operated by Norfolk Southern and carries freight trains between Buffalo and Binghamton.

The railroad spokesman said the train was en route from Buffalo to Mechanicville, north of Albany. Speed limit in the area of the accident is 35 mph.

The cause of the derailment was not immediately determined.

"An initial investigation was conducted," Rudolph said, in the statement from the Wyoming County Sheriff's Office, "and we are turning over our investigation to Norfolk Southern Railroad Police and the Federal Railroad Administration."

The railroad spokesman, Glass, said that the train was not carrying hazardous materials and that Norfolk Southern is sending environmental specialists to clean up spilled diesel fuel.

Rudolph noted in the statement that "the long-term cleanup of the damaged engines and rail cars will be days."

During a news conference Thursday outside the administration building at Attica Central Schools, Myers described both engines of the train as having gone over an embankment, along with numerous freight cars.

"Some of the new cars have also been thrown off the rail cars. So there's new cars in the ditch and over an embankment, as well," Myers said.

To get to the site of the derailment, first responders had to go through a farm field for access to where that section of the rail track is located.

"It's probably 50 to 75 feet above the farm field itself. There's a ditch between the farm field and the rail bed. So train came off the tracks and came over the embankment almost into the ravine below," said Myers.

"The location is very hard to get at. We had to lay five inch hoses in the event that we were going to put the fire out," he added.

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