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Ayer freight train derailment cause unknown, neighbors concerned

Ayer train derailment cleanup draws interest and concern from neighbors
Ayer train derailment cleanup draws interest and concern from neighbors 02:21

AYER - There's no word yet on what caused a freight train to derail in Ayer as the cleanup entered a second day Friday.

The train was stopped on the tracks late Thursday morning when five cars, each carrying double stacked containers, fell over. The containers were full of trash and recycling, but all were sealed. There were no leaks or spills, no one was hurt and there was no hazardous material.

"When I first got the news from my wife that's what the thought was in my mind, we might be close enough to have to evacuate," said resident Hal Coyle. "We're just lucky it's just compacted trash. Everything held together, no spills, no leaks."  

Railway operator CSX owns the train and is working around the clock on cleaning up the mess. The line is jointly owned with Norfolk Southern. Norfolk Southern is currently under investigation by the NTSB following a derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in February that caused toxic chemicals to spill and forced evacuations.

"What if I were just walking along the track when there was a massive derailment," said John Ford. "You think fantasies like that then this thing in Ohio happened."   

The NTSB told WBZ-TV they are not investigating the Ayer derailment.

An aerial view of the train derailment the day after the incident, March 24, 2023. CBS Boston

Neighbors say they noticed over the last year, that the height of the tracks did not look even in the spot where the train toppled over Thursday. The tracks were dismantled there, as cranes lifted huge containers full of trash, lifting them onto flatbed trucks that hauled them away.

"Very interesting process, very intricate," said resident Peter Cunningham. "They're like surgeons operating with these cranes here with wires overhead and everything else."

The scene is a few hundred yards away from a day care where Anthony Lively dropped his 13-month-year-old son off prior to the incident.

"I was scared to death," Lively told WBZ Friday. "My son was 200 yards away in his day care and there's a bunch of kids there. It was really difficult to find any information. Seeing all the stuff that happened in Ohio, I was absolutely scared and trying to reach out to CSX. They are absolutely unresponsive. They could care less."  

The Commuter Rail, which rides through the center of the same line but on separate tracks, was running slowly through the scene Thursday.

"Crews are working to safely re-rail the five intermodal cars while not impeding commuter rail service," CSX said in a statement Friday. "Recovery efforts will continue until the area is fully cleared and restored. CSX appreciates the swift, professional response of local first responders. The cause of the incident remains under investigation."

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