By Danza Johnson
SHERMAN – The tracks are clear and trains are back running after Tuesday’s massive derailment in this countyline hamlet, still there’s tons of work to be done – literally.
After spending more than 24 hours cutting through the mangled wreckage of the 43 coal-carrying cars that derailed in downtown Tuesday morning, workers cleared and repaired tracks so the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railways could get back to business.
Officials say they were thankful no one was injured in the wreck, but they’re looking ahead to a couple of problems.
• What to do with the nearly 5,000 tons of coal and crushed rail cars now littering this small town of 540 people on the Lee, Pontotoc and Union county lines.
• Who was going to repair the severely damaged streets?
No timetable set
Joseph Faust, BNSF regional director of public affairs, said no timetable has been set for when the coal and cars will be moved from the town.
“The cars will have to be there until it’s decided where they will be moved,” he said. “We will move them in expedient time though.”
Faust said BNSF will pay for all the damage caused by the derailment.
The cause of the accident is still under investigation, but the damage it caused to the town is obvious.
The huge, heavy machinery hauled in to clean up the mess has destroyed the street, according to Mike Faulkner, Sherman’s street engineer. Cracks and potholes in the pavement are increasing with every trip the machines take on the fragile roadways. Underground drainage also may have been affected by the weight of the machines and coal.
“We won’t know until all the coal and rail cars are removed, but I think it’s going to take a substantial financial amount to repair the roads,” said Faulkner. “We’re meeting with railroad officials next week to see how this is going to be taken care of.”
MDEQ checking coal
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality staff were at the derailment site to make sure the coal didn’t pose any environmental problems. MDEQ spokesman Robbie Wilbur said testing will be done.
“We don’t think the people in Sherman have anything to worry about,” Wilbur assessed, “but we’re going to make sure.”
Wilbur said MDEQ also will try to salvage some of the coal to prevent it from going to landfills. However, BNSF officials said the coal shipment is pretty much ruined.
The derailment is a reminder of the potential danger is the accident had occurred in more populated areas like Tupelo.
U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R–Tupelo, said Tuesday’s derailment is a prime example of why rails in Tupelo should be relocated. He said if a similar incident happened at the city’s heart – Crosstown – the potential for catastrophic damage, a disruption in commerce and loss of life would have been high.
“This shows clearly the tracks aren’t in the right place,” said Wicker. “The magnitude of this derailment has opened some eyes about safety issues.
“If the derailment had gone to the right it would have likely hit a propane tank which would have been a disaster.”
Rebel Gas owns the 30,000-pound propane gas tank near the tracks. Manager Carl Sullivan said they have no plans to move the tank because nothing happened to it during the crash.
In 2004, Congress appropriated $2 million for a study to determine new routes for railroad service through Tupelo.
Wicker will meet with the Mississippi Department of Transportation next week to discuss the railroad.
Contact Daily Journal law enforcement reporter Danza Johnson at 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org