Train Derailment Causes Shaking Like Earthquake

Crews finished working Wednesday to restore cars and cargo on a freight train that derailed Monday in Downey, tearing up about 1,100 feet of track and tying up street traffic at some intersections.

The Southern Pacific freight was loaded with 95 units of double-stacked shipping containers when it rolled off the tracks about 4:20 p.m. near Burns and Rives avenues. The weight and speed of the train caused a rumbling and rattling that shook nearby buildings much like an earthquake.

Witnesses said the ground shook hard, railroad ties were snapped like toothpicks and sparks were flying as pieces of metal were torn loose.

Small fires broke out along the tracks, but they were quickly doused by the Downey Fire Department, spokeswoman Sharon Crook said.

Firefighters at first believed the rail cars may have been carrying hazardous materials, and started to evacuate residents in a nearby apartment complex. The evacuation was halted about 15 minutes later, however, when the train's conductor assured firemen that the cargo was not hazardous. No injuries were reported.

The cause of the derailment was a faulty metal cross brace on one stack car, according to Bob Hoppe, spokesman for Southern Pacific Transportation Co. in Los Angeles. When the brace failed it caused downward pressure on the bottom of the car, pushing the wheels apart and spreading the rails. The cars behind simply rolled off the track.

Hoppe said the track was expected to be repaired and reopened for service by early Wednesday evening.

The train was made up of 19 articulated cars, each of which had five attached units holding containers stacked two high. Four cars or 20 units were derailed, Hoppe said. The train originated at the Long Beach Harbor intermodal container terminal and was bound for the East Coast.

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