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Cleanup begins after 3,600 tons of coal spill into the Great Dismal Swamp

Cleanup begins after 3,600 tons of coal spill into the Great Dismal Swamp
Posted at 7:31 PM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 18:36:06-04

SUFFOLK, Va. - Amtrak service in and out of Norfolk resumed on Thursday after a 36-car Norfolk Southern train derailment disrupted the services on Tuesday.

Officials with Norfolk Southern said that 36 cars - each carrying a ton of coal - were derailed in the middle of the Great Dismal Swamp Tuesday at 4:20 a.m.

Norfolk Southern is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to clean up the area and develop an environmental restoration plan.

John Giese with the DEQ said the incident happened about 5 miles west of intersection of Yadkin Road and Galberry Road. On Thursday, Giese said they were using the gravel area around the tracks as a "staging area." Crews were seen driving back and forth towards the debris.

Norfolk Southern released this statement on Wednesday:

Initial reports indicated that Norfolk Southern experienced a derailment of a coal train yesterday, west of Portlock near the Suffolk/Chesapeake border. Norfolk Southern has since confirmed that 36 loaded cars of coal derailed within the boundaries of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge at 4:20 a.m.

There were no reported injuries. The coal spill is confined to a relatively small area adjacent to NS’ tracks and there is no impact to any major waterway.

Norfolk Southern operations and environmental personnel are on-site working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to coordinate cleanup efforts and develop an environmental restoration plan.

After releasing this statement, News 3 reached out to Norfolk Southern again for more information about an exact location and the cause of the wreck. Thursday, Norfolk Southern released the following statement:

At about 4:20 a.m. Tuesday, June 25, 36 loaded cars of coal derailed within the boundaries of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. There were no reported injuries.

The coal spill is confined to a relatively small area adjacent to Norfolk Southern’s tracks. Norfolk Southern operations and environmental personnel are on-site working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to coordinate cleanup efforts and develop an environmental restoration plan.

Norfolk Southern restored service on one main line at about 12:30 a.m. today, and the other around 3:30 a.m. The cause of the derailment has not been determined and is under investigation at this time.

Giese said the focus for Thursday is "establishing access to the impacted area so that Norfolk Southern can remove [the] debris and coal." He couldn't give an exact timeline but said it could take weeks.

Once the coal and destroyed rail cars are removed, Giese's crew will be able to start looking at environmental impacts. He said his folks will assess the impacts to the wetland and what mitigation strategies are required going forward.

Giese doesn't believe there was any affect on wildlife unless something was buried when the train was derailed. However, the Department of Environmental Quality won't be able to comment on that until all coal and debris are removed.