Lawsuit alleges negligence in train derailment and chemical fire that forced residents from homes

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court alleges that CSX Transportation’s negligence caused a train derailment and a chemical fire that forced residents of a small Kentucky town from their homes for more than a day, including most of Thanksgiving.

The train derailed on November 22 around 2:30 pm that Wednesday near the remote town of Livingston. Residents were advised to evacuate just a day before the Thanksgiving holiday and were not cleared to return to their homes until Thursday after the fire was extinguished.

An investigation by the railway company showed that the derailment occurred after a wheel bearing on a train car failed.

Morgan & Morgan filed the lawsuit on behalf of the city’s affected residents seeking class action status. He said the derailment could have been prevented if CSX had better monitored the train’s wheel bearings and installed track detectors that sound an alarm if the wheel bearings closer together overheat.

“Due to CSX’s alleged recklessness and negligence in checking the train’s wheel bearings, they have created a potentially deadly environment for all residents living in the Rockcastle County area,” Morgan said. & Morgan attorney Jean Martin said.

CSX said in a statement that it is investigating the lawsuit’s allegations and continues to support affected residents.

“We pride ourselves on being a safe railroad and in the rare event that an incident like the one in Livingston, Kentucky occurs, we respond quickly, prioritize safety and support community recovery,” said the explanation.

Two of the sixteen derailed cars were carrying molten sulfur, which caught fire after the cars breached. No other hazardous substances were released. The Federal Railroad Administration said an investigation is underway.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems depending on the concentration and duration of exposure.

A spokesperson for the railroad said Monday that crews were able to repair the tracks and that trains were running through the area again on Sunday. All 16 rail cars involved in the derailment were removed from the site and crews removed the chemical spill and 2,500 tons of affected soil and replaced it with clean material, CSX said.

A CSX spokesman, Bryan Tucker, said no sulfur dioxide has been found in the area since the fire was extinguished.

Tucker said the faulty bearing did not get hot enough to trigger an alarm from the last railroad track detectors the train passed, so the crew received no warning before the derailment. A wheel bearing must be at least 170 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature to trigger an alarm.

The train was about 20 miles (33 kilometers) past the last detector and was two miles (3 kilometers) from the next one along the tracks. On all of CSX’s networks in the eastern United States, these detectors are an average of 15 miles apart, but on less traveled routes where there is no passenger traffic, the detectors may be further apart. Tucker said that was the case here.

The track detectors that railroads rely on to spot defects before they can cause derailments received widespread attention earlier this year after an overheated wheel bearing caused a fiery derailment on another eastern Ohio railroad in February. In that Norfolk Southern derailment, the crew did receive a warning, but it did not come quickly enough to stop the train before it derailed in East Palestine.

That derailment and several others since have put a spotlight on national rail safety, but subsequent proposed reforms have largely stalled in Congress, and regulators have also made little progress.

The Kentucky lawsuit named two plaintiffs but sought class action status for all affected residents and asked the court for medical supervision, injunctive and declaratory relief, compensatory damages, damages related to emotional distress, loss of property value and increased risks of future diseases.