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Norfolk Southern train derails, spills coal into Roanoke River in western Roanoke County

Norfolk Southern train derails, spills coal into Roanoke River in western Roanoke County

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Rail cars on a Norfolk Southern train carrying coal derailed into the Roanoke River upstream of Salem's main water intake late Friday, Roanoke County officials said.

There were no reported injuries to the train crew, and the incident involved no hazardous material, said Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Rachel McDonnell Bradshaw on Saturday.

The city of Salem has decided to withdraw water from groundwater wells, rather than its intake in the Roanoke River downstream of the derailment, in response to Friday night’s incident, Roanoke County announced Saturday night.

The temporary measure was taken by the city so that water samples from the waterway can be collected and analyzed.

“The city has sufficient back-up water resources and no disruptions to services are anticipated,” according to the county announcement.

The Virginia Department of Health is working closely with Salem’s water treatment plant to ensure drinking water service is not disrupted.

The derailment occurred at approximately 10:15 p.m. Friday, Bradshaw said.

The incident occurred near the Roanoke River. Vehicular access to the site was blocked Saturday afternoon.

Company personnel and contractors are at the site coordinating and engaging in cleanup and recovery efforts, Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw didn’t immediately provide further details on the exact number of rail cars involved. She also didn’t immediately clarify the approximate address of where the incident occurred.

But drone images of the scene, shot by photographer David Hungate working for The Roanoke Times, shows the trestle that carried the rail line over the river has been destroyed and more than one dozen railcars scattered in and on either side of the Roanoke River, along with the coal they were carrying.

The coal train was traveling eastbound toward Norfolk, Bradshaw said. The derailment is under investigation.

The county also provided some more details on the derailment itself.

A dozen of the 22 rail cars that derailed fell into the river, releasing approximately 2,000 tons of coal, according to the county.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which both initially responded to the incident, have been working with Norfolk Southern on the removal of the rail cars and coal from the river.

“Any environmental impacts from the coal are expected to be largely physical in nature,” the county announcement said. “However, DEQ is coordinating with local, state and federal agencies and Norfolk Southern to collect samples to determine whether there have been any impacts to water quality.”

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