Reason why chemical train derailed still not known


IARNROD Eireann has given an assurance that its transport of hazardous cargos complies fully with international regulations.

This follows Saturday morning's derailment at Tullamore of a chemical container train which was returning empty to Dublin after delivering chemicals to Ballina for the nearby Asahi plant.

The train had nine empty chemical tanks and 12 other containers on flat bed bogies, as well as a "barrier wagon" containing water for use in emergencies.

An investigation is under way to establish why the middle section of the train became derailed some 200 yards short of Tullamore station, ripping up the track and leaving two of the nine chemical wagons on their side.

Mr Cyril Ferris, spokesman for Iarnrod Eireann, said the driver had "felt a tug" on the train as it came towards the station at 7.54 a.m. He braked immediately and dismounted to find that the chemical wagons had become derailed.

In accordance with emergency procedures, the driver alerted the Garda, the local fire services and Iarnrod Eireann's engineers. Damage to the line was repaired fairly rapidly and normal train services were restored by 6 p.m.

"We are certain this was not caused by a track fault, as the derailment took place on a brand new stretch of line. Engineers at the scene found marks on the track indicating that something was hanging down [from the train]", he said.

The steel framed chemical tanks, which were returning empty from the Asahi synthetic fibres plant in Killala, Co Mayo, carry acrylonitrile (also known as vinyl cyanide) and methyl acrylate from Dublin port to the Asahi plant. These are Asahi's main raw materials.

They are both as flammable as petrol as well as being highly toxic. In the event of a serious accident, contact with concentrated vapour by inhaling, would be fatal. The driver and guard on each train have chemical suits and masks.

The trains travel nightly from Dublin Port via Cabra Junction, the Phoenix Park tunnel, Portarlington and Athlone to Ballina. From there, the chemical cargo is taken by road to the Asahi plant, while the trains return empty.

Mr Ferris said a strict speed limit of 40 m.p.h. is observed for the Asahi trains, based on calculations about the structure of the tanks and the likelihood of rupture in collision. The normal speed limit is 75 m.p.h.

Until recently, even if an Asahi train is overdue by to minutes on a section of line with no radio communication the alarm was raised in case there might have been an accident. Now train drivers are equipped with cell phones.

"Two years ago, there was an alert when an Asahi train ran out of fuel, and one local radio station was telling people to leave their homes," Mr Ferris said. "It leads to a lot of hysteria about `trains of death'."

However, he pointed out that only 5 per cent of all hazardous cargos in the Republic are transported by rail. "Some of the really dangerous stuff is on the road, carried by private hauliers, and nobody knows about it".

Iarnrod Eireann's other customer for the transport of hazardous chemicals is Irish Fertiliser Industries (IFI), whose cargos of anhydrous ammonia are taken by rail from Marino Point in Cork to the NET plant in Arklow, Co Wicklow.

These trains, each carrying a maximum of eight ammonia tanks, travel daily on the main line from Cork to Dublin and then through the city (via the Phoenix Park tunnel, Cabra junction and the Loop Line bridge) to the Rosslare line.

One of the reasons the IFI chemical train travels through Dublin's densely built up area is that the more obvious alternative of going to Arklow via Waterford and Rosslare is not an option because of the poor state of the track.

"We carry out regular exercises with the emergency services. The health boards, the fire brigades and the local authorities all know the properties of these chemicals and are trained to deal with accidents," Mr Ferris said.