Bethel Derailment Has Big Price Tag
Bethel — The owner of Green Mountain Feeds expects it will cost his business as much as $50,000 to get a derailed train car back on the tracks, and to pay for any repairs.
The three train cars that collided after brakes holding the trains in place were disengaged on Saturday belong to Bethel-based organic feed supplier Green Mountain Feeds and contained grain that had been delivered to the business, but not yet unloaded. The accident is being investigated by police as a case of vandalism.
Two of the rail cars had been at rest and were connected when someone disengaged their brakes, causing the two cars to roll about 300 feet along the tracks and slam into a car. The third car’s brakes were still engaged, said Green Mountain Feeds owner Eric Dutil.
He said he thinks the collision with the stationary third car retarded the motion of the rolling cars before derailing, thereby preventing a worse accident.
“If the brakes hadn’t been on the third car, probably all three cars would have landed on Route 107 or the houses that are there,” Dutil said.
A news release put out by the Vermont State Police echoed Dutil’s sentiment.
“The grain cars stopped short of an embankment at the back of a residential property and could have had catastrophic consequences if the brakes on the third car were not engaged,” the release stated.
All three rail cars were full of grain and weighed about 250,000 pounds each, Dutil said. By Monday afternoon, one of the rail cars had been pulled back along the tracks by a large piece of orange equipment. Green Mountain Feeds is located on Main Street in Bethel, and behind three giant silos rested a rail car that appeared still to be on the tracks and a red rail car, that was visibly leaning off the tracks.
The tracks run along a mound of earth, and the red car leaned at an angle toward a two-story gray house and a two-story yellow house. In the backyard of the gray house was a wooden shed, a clothes line and stone fire pit. If the rail cars hadn’t stopped, it’s likely that they would have tumbled into the backyard of the two houses near the intersection of Route 107 and Route 12, Dutil said.
The cars are leased by Green Mountain Feeds and they were at rest on a spur, the section of rail that Green Mountain Feeds uses to unload its grain deliveries. When the three cars collided, they pushed the red rail car beyond the point where the track ends.
Audrey Turk, who owns an accounting and tax service business housed in the yellow house below the train tracks where the red car stopped, said that if the rail car had kept rolling it could have potentially fallen down the embankment and crashed into her building — where a tenant rents the second floor.
“It’s quite scary because it could have been an accident, a very serious accident,” Turk said inside her office Monday afternoon. “This is scary stuff, especially if it was sabotaged to cause a problem.”
During Tropical Storm Irene, Turk said the mound upon which the railroad tracks rested saved her business from being flooded by the nearby White River.
But Turk’s house on Camp Brook Road did get flooded, forcing her to move into the apartment above her business for a time. In the months after, rail cars carrying rocks for road repairs would run along the tracks and dump their loads down the embankment on the opposite side of her business, creating a loud nuisance while she lived there.
“We don’t need any more surprises,” Turk said.
State Police have said they are investigating the accident as a felony vandalism case, and Dutil said a camera caught the accident on tape.
“We know somebody did it because we can see them crossing the tracks on our cameras, but it’s not close enough to make identifications,” Dutil said.
The town has an emergency management plan that takes into account possible train accidents. If an accident or derailment occurs, the fire chief is supposed to be the first person to be called.
But Fire Chief David Aldrighetti said that Bethel’s fire department could not handle a train derailment on its own. Instead, Aldrighetti would become the delegating authority who would in turn call the state police who could send a hazmat team.
Aldrighetti said he has learned that the trains themselves aren’t as worrisome as what can be stored inside rail cars, such as propane or hazardous chemicals.
Dutil estimates it will cost Green Mountain Feeds between $30,000 and $50,000 in damage because he will have to hire a crane to lift at least one of the train cars back onto the tracks.
The grain comes out of the cars from the under body, and if there is damage to the under body, Dutil will have to pay for that, as well as any damage that was caused to the tracks.
As for the grain, Dutil said that should be fine. As long as it stays dry, it can stay fresh for several months.
Anyone with information about the accident is asked to call the Vermont State Police at 802-234-9933.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.