Topline

Three Norfolk Southern trains were involved in a derailment incident near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on Saturday morning, resulting in a spill of diesel fuel into the nearby Lehigh River, which contributes to regional water sources—though officials say there is no danger to the public.

Key Facts

The incident occurred at around 7:15 a.m. near the Village of Steel City, according to the Lower Saucon Township Police Department—the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration both said they were dispatching personnel to the scene.

The NTSB told Forbes preliminary information suggests an eastbound Norfolk Southern train struck a stopped Norfolk Southern train on the same track, with the wreckage then slipping on an adjacent track, where a westbound Norfolk Southern train struck it—the number of cars that derailed is not yet known, NTSB said.

There were no reported injuries “or release of hazardous materials,” according to the NTSB, echoing a preliminary statement from the County of Northampton, which had said there were no evacuations and “no leaks from any of the containers.”

The Lower Saucon Township Police Department also said there were no injuries, but it added there was a “diesel fuel spill into the Lehigh River” as well as a spill of “polypropylene plastic pellets from one of the derailed cars.”

The police department said containment booms have been deployed to prevent the spread of the spill, and there “are no evacuations or hazardous material threat to the community.”

Norfolk Southern spokesperson Connor Spielmaker told Forbes a “small amount” of diesel fuel spilled due to a fuel cap being damaged, but that no “hazardous material cars” were leaking materials, and there is no threat to the public.

What We Don’t Know

Lower Saucon Township Police Chief Thomas Barndt said in a news conference Saturday morning the exact quantity of diesel fuel spilled is unknown. He also noted, however, that the number of pellets was “minimal,” and Norfolk Southern told the local CBS affiliate that those pellets landed “predominantly on the ground.”

Crucial Quote

“There is no wider threat to the public,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, noting the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Emergency Management Agency were on scene.

Key Background

The incident comes just after the one-year anniversary of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which led to a chemical spill that prompted concerns about an environmental disaster. The NTSB had previously opened a special investigation into Norfolk Southern’s “safety culture” after a series of safety issues were reported to the NTSB between 2021 and 2023—including the East Palestine incident.

Surprising Fact

Train derailments are not entirely uncommon, and while cases like the East Palestine crash have grabbed headlines, there’s been no significant change in the rate of derailments, according to Federal Railroad Administration data. The FRA logged 1,228 derailments in 2023, up slightly from 1,213 in 2022 but down from nearly 10 years ago, when there were more than 1,300 in 2014.

Tangent

The local Nancy Run Fire Company shared photos of the crash on Facebook, showing derailed train cars piled up, with some dipping into the river—those pictures have since been circulating on social media.

Further Reading

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