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Monday, December 29, 1997 Published at 22:48 GMT


Rail accident families can go home
image: [ The carriage survived the crash without leaking its deadly cargo ]
The carriage survived the crash without leaking its deadly cargo

Hundreds of families were allowed to go home on Monday after a major operation to clear a derailed train of 60 tonnes of a highly inflammable chemical.

About 1,000 residents at Barry, south Wales, spent two days in temporary accommodation because of fears of an explosion.

The all-clear came shortly before 2100GMT after fire service teams and chemical specialists finally declared the area safe.

Engineers took more than two days to lift an overturned tanker wagon and carefully offload its cargo of liquid vinyl chloride monomer, which is used in the plastics industry.

But as a further safety precaution, residents were not allowed home until the empty wagon was removed from the track.

The families, who live within a 300-metre radius of the railway line, had been staying at community and leisure centres.

Most praised the response of council staff and voluntary workers who provided hot meals and drinks.

Compensation claims pending

But newsagent, Sandra Harrhy, who was forced to abandon her shop, said before the all-clear: "We were given just a few minutes notice to leave our business. This has cost us two days' business and we shall be seeking compensation from the railway company.

"Everyone is absolutely exhausted through lack of sleep."

[ image: The track was cordoned off]
The track was cordoned off
The liquid vinyl chloride monomer is used to make building products, but it can boil and emit potentially flammable vapour if uncontained.

The load was on its way to the European Vinyl Corporation, based at Barry Docks, when it derailed on Saturday night.

Inquiry launched

EVC and the South Wales Fire Service supervised the operation to remove the chemical from the carriage. The carriage, the last of nine on the freight train, was made safe following the incident and there was no risk to public safety, said a police spokesman.

An inquiry has been launched by British Transport Police into the cause of the derailment.

[ image: Glyn Davis: evacuation was too slow]
Glyn Davis: evacuation was too slow
EVC's commercial manager, John Cunningham, said the evacuation was "simply a precautionary measure" while the chemical was transferred into another wagon.

However,Glyn Davis, whose home is only a few doors away from the crash scene, criticised the rescue team for taking 14 hours to evacuate his family from the area.

"I think we should have been evacuated before," he said. "Vinyl chloride is very dangerous, not only from an explosion. It can be absorbed through the skin and it causes cancer."

Ministerial praise

The Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, who has visited the evacuated families praised those involved in the rescue operation.

"It was a potential disaster, but thanks to all the emergency services a disaster has been averted," he said.

[ image: The Welsh Secretary Ron Davies:
The Welsh Secretary Ron Davies: "A disaster has been averted."
He ruled out introducing an immediate ban on dangerous chemicals being transported through the area - which relies heavily on the chemical industry for employment.

Mr Davies said he would wait for the results of the accident inquiry and then make "a balanced judgement" about what measures should be taken.

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