Two rail companies aren’t liable for some claims arising from the 2012 train derailment in southern New Jersey that released a hazardous gas, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler’s ruling published Tuesday in Camden dismissed some claims against CSX and Norfolk Southern.
Seven cars on a train operated by Conrail derailed in Paulsboro on Nov. 30, 2012, with some falling into a creek. Vinyl chloride, a gas linked to respiratory problems, dizziness and death, was released.
Numerous residents sued Conrail as well as CSX and Norfolk Southern, claiming the latter two companies were liable since they took over some operations from Conrail in the late 1990s.
The judge noted in Tuesday’s ruling that while CSX’s and Norfolk Southern’s parent companies acquired 100 percent of Conrail’s stock and took over portions of its operating assets, Conrail retained operation of the rail line and bridge involved in the 2012 accident.
Among plaintiffs’ claims were that CSX should be held liable because a CSX engineer didn’t report that he heard an error message from the bridge on the night before the derailment as the rear of his train was passing over it.
Kugler wrote that that claim, filed in opposition to the companies’ motion to dismiss the claims, was in contrast to the plaintiffs’ earlier position that the companies were negligent because they used the bridge even though they knew it had malfunctioned numerous times previously.
“Even if the Court were to consider these allegations against CSX on the merits, they would still fail because no reasonable jury could conclude that CSX caused the derailment,” the judge wrote.
In a report released last year, the National Transportation Safety Board faulted Conrail for continuing to open and close a swinging bridge where the accident occurred, despite a consultant’s recommendation to keep it closed.
The report said a conductor decided to go over the bridge anyway despite not having adequate training to make such a call. It also found problems with the way Conrail and local officials handled the emergency response.
The first trial stemming from the derailment is scheduled for next month.
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