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Train derails on S’west Side, knocking freight into back yard

At home 2336 S. 83rd street several railroad cars from  multi-car traderailment fell yard homeowner located near 83rd Maplewood

At the home at 2336 S. 83rd street, several railroad cars from the multi-car train derailment fell in the yard of a homeowner located near 83rd and Maplewood in Chicago on Sept 2, 2012. | Al Podgorski

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Updated: October 4, 2012 6:16AM

One freight train rear-ended another early Sunday in the Southwest Side Ashburn neighborhood, knocking out power to 2,500 people and spilling freight containers down an embankment into the backyard of a local resident.

No one was injured in the accident which occurred around 2 a.m. on CSX tracks near 83rd and Rockwell. But a potential disaster was avoided when full-size freight containers came to a rest in a yard less than 20-feet from a small brick bungalow.

A total of two locomotives and eight freight cars derailed, with one of the freight cars spilling 200 pounds of soil contaminated with low levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) onto the tracks.

PCBs have been associated with cancer and other illnesses and their manufacture has been banned since 1979.

U.S. EPA workers and consultants hired by the railroad “barreled that up and it’s been safely removed,” said railroad spokesman Tom Livingston.

Wantan Montgomery, of the 8200 block of South Maplewood, said his family was awakened from a sound sleep by the wreck.

“We heard a big crash and saw a bright flash that lit up all our windows,” Montgomery said, adding they thought the power transformer in the alley had blown up because their lights went out.

“Then we went out and the saw train cars had knocked the transformer down, and containers were piled up in our neighbor’s yard.”

The man who lives at that home, Ernie Pentek, told WLS-Channel 7 that the noise woke him and he saw a train in his back yard. “The train industry’s got a pretty good record, and being that there’s a lot of trains that pass through here, we never thought it would happen,” Pentek said.

Power to area residents was restored within three hours.

The cause of the accident was under investigation, according to railroad spokesman Livingston.

He said three trains were involved.

One, bound from Nashville to Chicago, had two locomotives hauling 13 flatbed cars double-stacked with freight containers.

That train hit another train from Albany, N.Y. that was standing still with four locomotives and 93 cars of contaminated soil.

A third train, consisting of 130 empty coal cars, was sitting still on an adjacent track. Five of the coal cars derailed, the railroad said.

Wreckage should be cleared by Monday, though overhead power lines which had to be rerouted to allow access by cranes have made the job more challenging, Livingston said.

Sunday morning, crews were cutting down trees and a fence protecting Pentek’s yard in order to get at the containers.

One other property was affected, CSX said.

Meanwhile Pentek’s family has been put up at a hotel, according to neighbors.

“Of course we’re going to make the yard as good or better than it was before,” said Livingston. “A new fence, whatever we can do to smooth the transition.”

The section of CSX track where the accident occurred is called the Blue Island Division and runs from Ogden Avenue in Chicago to freight yards in Blue Island.

Around 83rd and Rockwell, the railroad embankment curves from north to east, creating an isolated, tight-knit community in that part of Ashburn, which is bounded by the Beverly Country Club on the south.

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