Update on train derailment clean-up and arrest of driver responsible

Derailment aftermath in Collegedale.
January 15, 2023 (Photo by: Ron Cabacungan)
Derailment aftermath in Collegedale. January 15, 2023 (Photo by: Ron Cabacungan)

Jorge Luis Cruz-Vega, the tractor-trailer driver allegedly involved in the collision and subsequent derailment of three engines and 10 railway cars on Dec. 20, has been arrested by the Collegedale Police Department (CPD), according to a post made on the departments’sFacebook and Instagram accounts.

Cruz-Vega has been charged with felony reckless endangerment, failure to yield and a registration violation. 

According to the investigation of the incident made by the CPD, Cruz-Vega began crossing the railroad behind his first escort car without ensuring his tractor-trailer could completely clear the tracks. He also did not make contact or arrangements with Norfolk Southern Railroad about his delivery route, according to police. 

Cruz-Vega’s tractor stopped halfway across the tracks after his turn, which moved the trailer into the lane of on-coming traffic instead of his own travel lane. While stopped in that on-coming lane, the tractor trailer and the concrete bridge span it carried were struck by the Norfolk Southern locomotive,  resulting in the subsequent train derailment, injury of two individuals and damage to the rail system and the surrounding infrastructure, according to the press release. 

Cruz-Vega is currently out on a $10,000 bond and his court date has been set for April 12, 2023, the release further stated. 

Additionally, on Jan. 3 during the Collegedale Commissioners meeting, three Norfolk representatives spoke about the ongoing cleanup of the derailment site and its physical and environmental impact. 

The total cleanup is predicted to take about a month, according to John Carden, the assistant regional manager of railway investigations. According to Carden, Norfolk Southern has a contractor working to cut up the rail cars and another to re-rail the cars and eventually get them out of Collegedale and closer to Chattanooga. 

“The goal is to place [the railway cars]  in an area that’s more beneficial to us [in a way] that doesn’t draw quite as many onlookers,” Carden said.

According to Carden, the best projected timeline is to allow a few weeks for cutting the locomotives and three-and-a-half to four weeks for moving them, depending on the state of the weather. 

“We’re going to work as fast as we can to get them out of the way,” said Carden. 

Mike Frog, another Norfolk Southern representative  who is in charge of Northfolk Southern police out of Birmingham, also spoke at the commissioner’s meeting. According to Frog, his team is working within its department and with the police to keep people and tourists safe during the entire process.

 Frog said although it has been attracting tourists, the railway can be a dangerous location to explore, given its current state. So the railroad company is working to prevent trespassing and any endangerment. 

Robert Wood also spoke at the meeting as the system manager of hazardous materials with Norfolk Southern. His position handles environmental cleanup, both hazardous and non-hazardous. 

According to Wood, about 1,065 gallons of diesel fuel loss from the lead locomotive has been collected out of the original 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of fuel. Wood also hopes full cleanup can be finished in a month with the cooperation of the weather. When asked about the ecological impact on the creek, Wood notes that there seems to be no issues as the cleanup response happened swiftly and the weather so far has helped flush out the residual mess. 

Overall, the Board of Commissioners thanked the Norfolk representatives for their quick and effective response in the cleanup. 
The video depicting these interactions can be found on YouTube from minutes 17:54- 32:33

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