By Bill Toscano
Train service between Vermont and New York was disrupted for part of last weekend following a train derailment on the Vermont Rail lines that cross South Williams Street early Saturday morning and could have caused public safety issues in the village.
The Amtrak Ethan Allen Express that regularly runs from Rutland, Vt., to New York City was out of service on Saturday, but was able to run Sunday, and Vermont Rail was unable to run its trains through Whitehall to join up with the Delaware & Hudson lines that run to Montreal and New York City. Amtrak passengers were bused to Albany and completed the train trip from there.
Whitehall village Mayor Francis “Fra” Putorti said it was fortunate that the police were on the far side of South Williams Street at the time. “The road would have been blocked for them if they had been at the station,” he said. Last year, police were unable to respond to a robbery on Broadway, because a train was crossing the tracks. The town’s department of public works is also in the Montcalm Avenue building that houses the police station.
The investigation into the derailment is continuing and Vermont Rail officials do not yet have a specific cause. The accident happened as the train came around a curve just before passing over Wood Creek.
Whitehall police said two engines and 11 box cars went off the tracks at about 1:31 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 29. Police said the cars, which carry grain or salt, were empty at the time of the accident.
The cars went off the track on the curve that leads to the trestle over Wood Creek and the crossing at South Williams Street. There were more than 50 cars in the train. The engines that went off the tracks were at the rear of the train.
South Williams Street was closed until about 8 a.m. All but six of the cars were cleared by Sunday morning.
Whitehall firefighters stood by at the scene Saturday, but there was no spillage and there were no hazardous materials.
Vermont Rail crews were able to clear the tracks by early afternoon Sunday. There was limited track damage and no damage to the bridge.
One of the cars badly cracked a power pole, but there was no loss of power.” The accident drew onlookers, including train buffs, all day.
Local resident Jim Lafayette, a former railroad employee, said the Internet drew a lot of those on-lookers.
“Especially today, with the Internet, word spread quickly about the derailment,” he said. “Many rail buffs showed up to take pictures. Railroads are heavy into Homeland Security, because of some of the volatile loads they carry. They don’t like people around their property.”
Putorti has said in the past he would like to move to police station closer on downtown so the railroad crossing would no present an issue. If the crossing is in use, police have to take the long way around to get to the village.