Freight train derails in Union Township; NJ Transit's Raritan Valley Line impacted

UNION TOWNSHIP, New Jersey (WABC) -- A freight train derailed in Union, New Jersey, forcing NJ Transit to suspend Raritan Valley Line service between Newark Penn Station and Cranford ahead of the evening rush hour on Friday.

Some members of the Federal Railroad Association and Conrail remained on the scene Friday night, assisting with the cleanup and repair efforts.

It's not clear at this point just how fast this train was going or what exactly caused this massive derailment, but the damage left behind stretches for more than a mile.

It was a jolting and unnerving collision that sparked a chain reaction of 911 calls just before 2 p.m. Friday.

"It's scary, it's so close to home, we have a lot of babies and little kids in this complex," said Lindsey Villani, a Union resident.

When first responders and engineers arrived just short of the Union Train Station, they discovered the 8,600-foot-long CSX freight train upended and dangling off the tracks with multiple tankers and cars toppled on top of each other.

Lindsey Villani and her young daughter were among those living nearby initially forced to evacuate.

"I was working from home, I didn't know what to do, what to bring, how long I would be out for, but it was only four hours," Lindsey said.

"It took us a while to get home because there was a road block over there, the police were stopping us, we managed to convince a police officer to let us come home grab a couple things and go," said Joe Villani, a Union resident.

Union County officials say, fortunately, the 141 cars aboard the train were empty and only 21 derailed. Nothing hazardous was on board.

A conductor and engineer were the only two aboard when the incident occurred and both walked away unharmed.

"There's severe damage to the tracks, there is multiple piles of cars in different locations up and down the span of the tracks," said Mike Scanio, Union County Fire Chief.

As cleanup and repair efforts persisted along the tracks Friday evening, the patience of passengers aboard New Jersey Transit's Raritan Valley Line was put to the test.

Substitute bus service between Newark Penn Station and the Cranford Station was provided to offset the suspensions, but the sudden inconvenience wasn't warmly received.

"We're just lucky that it was empty, not a passenger a car, they share tracks so we got passenger cars, we got freight cars coming back and forth," a passenger said.

The freight train had been heading to Selkirk, New York.

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