copyright the Chronicle April 23, 2014
by Joseph Gresser
BARTON — Faulty bearings caused a railroad car loaded with pulp logs to leave the tracks as it crossed May Farm Road here on Friday evening. The northbound train that it was attached to continued on for about 100 yards until the coupling came undone and the brake line separated, said Selden Houghton, assistant vice-president of Vermont Rail System, who was on hand Monday and Tuesday to oversee repairs.
Modern roller bearings very rarely fail, Mr. Houghton said. They are not like the ones used on old time trains, which required frequent oiling, he said.
No one in the company had ever seen a problem like the one that caused the derailment, Mr. Houghton said. One end of the problem axle was squared off with its bearings in place, while the other showed nothing but a melted stub.
Mr. Houghton said no one was hurt and safety systems operated as designed. When the line separated, he said, the brakes held the car in place, although with its wheels off the track the car wasn’t going anywhere.
The last three cars of the train were decoupled, although only one was off the rails. After securing them, the unaffected part of the train continued north to Orleans.
Over Easter weekend little work was done to repair the damaged car or clear the tracks. That wasn’t much of a hardship, Mr. Houghton noted, as no trains were scheduled to run during that time anyway.
Monday morning, though, crews were hard at work. An inspection showed that a pair of wheels on one car needed to be replaced before it was pulled back to St. Johnsbury.
Meanwhile, a log truck, specially fitted to run on railroad tracks, unloaded the derailed car, so it could be lifted back onto the tracks. Another crew replaced ties that were damaged by the train wheels rolling across them like a pizza cutter.
The tracks also needed to be reset to the proper width. Mr. Houghton said the wheels of the derailed car dislodged them as they vibrated down the line over the gravel and wooden ties.
A new pair of wheels sat by the side of the tracks as the crew waited for equipment that could lift the car and allow them to swap out the damaged ones. Mr. Houghton said an excavator was brought into position, but it proved unequal to the car’s weight.
Tuesday morning, while waiting for a special crane to travel down from Maine, Vermont Railways brought in a piece of equipment used to set track. With its help, the crew quickly spiked the rails to the new ties.
Meanwhile, Richard LaClair piled up a mound of earth next to the derailed car. When the crane arrived from Maine it lifted the car and allowed the excavator to remove the damaged wheels.
In an ironic side note, a sign on the side of the crane identified its owner as Pan Am Railways, complete with the logo of the now defunct international airline. Mr. Houghton confirmed that the railways are what’s left of the company that Director Stanley Kubrick once envisioned running commercial flights to the moon.
The crane gently set the car on its new wheels, and when they were fixed, lifted it and set it back on the tracks. By late Tuesday afternoon the car had been taken to Orleans where more permanent repairs were to be made.
Mr. Houghton said the damage to the tracks and ties is a minor expense, and won’t amount to the deductible on the company’s insurance policy. The repairs to the car will be paid by the company that owns it, he says.
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