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Lower Saucon Train Derailment Investigation Under Way

Train Derailment

Local, state and other officials have launched an investigation into what caused a freight train to derail on Norfolk Southern tracks near Steel City in Lower Saucon Township Saturday morning.

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Train Derailment

First responders can be seen working on the river bank next to a train that derailed into the Lehigh River at Steel City in Lower Saucon Township Saturday morning. A Bethlehem Township trailhead on the opposite bank provided curious onlookers with a clear view of the accident scene.

Note: This story has been updated with additional information, including the National Transportation Safety Board’s announcement that it was sending an investigatory team to the area.

Local, state and other officials have launched an investigation into what caused a freight train to derail on Norfolk Southern tracks near Steel City in Lower Saucon Township Saturday morning.

The derailment involved three trains and happened around 7:15 a.m., near the Hill Climb on the east side of Steel City, which is the township’s most densely populated residential neighborhood.

Multiple cars derailed during the accident, in which two engines plunged down an embankment and one ended up partially submerged in the Lehigh River.

Upon their arrival at the scene, emergency responders assisted the train crew, who officials said were not injured in the derailment.

Lower Saucon Township Police and other officials held a press conference at Steel City Park at 11 a.m. Saturday to update media representatives and community members on their investigation.

In a press release, police said that a diesel fuel spill into the river that resulted from the accident is being managed with containment booms that have been deployed.

Officials said there is also a spill of polypropylene plastic pellets from one of the derailed cars, but stressed that there is no danger to nearby residents as a result of spillage of freight from the train.

There currently are no evacuations or hazardous material threat to the community,” they said. “We request that everyone stay out of the area so first responders and Norfolk Southern personnel can continue to assess and work at the scene.”

Along with Norfolk Southern, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the state’s Fish & Boat Commission, Northampton County Emergency Management, Lower Saucon Fire Rescue, Bethlehem Township Volunteer Company No. 1, Nancy Run Fire Company, Freemansburg Fire Company, Dewey Fire and EMS, and the Lehigh County Special Operations Team were some of the responding agencies involved in the cleanup and investigation. It was not immediately clear what role federal agencies would play in the investigation, but the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) tweeted Saturday that it was sending a team to the crash scene.

As of early Saturday afternoon, Riverside Drive remained closed to traffic at Mathews Avenue, which runs along Steel City Park and intersects with Riverside Drive near the Steel City fire station.

The fire station was surrounded by fire trucks and other emergency vehicles late Saturday morning, with access to Riverside Drive beyond that point restricted and safety cones located in the road.

Steel City residents have long expressed concerns about the possibility of a train derailment, in part because Riverside Drive–which parallels the tracks–is the only road into and out of the village.

Several reported hearing a loud boom at the time of the derailment, which occurred as rain was moving through the area.

On the opposite river bank from where it occurred, at a Delaware & Lehigh trailhead in Bethlehem Township, area residents were stopping to get a clear view of the massive train car entanglement.

Authorities did not release details about plans for how the engine would be pulled out of the river, or how long the cleanup might take. However, in the meantime both rail and vehicular traffic through the area will continue to be affected.

Note: This is a developing news story. Details may change and additional information may be added as it becomes available.

The train derailed at around 7:15 a.m. Saturday. Nearby residents said they heard a loud noise at that time.

As rain fell, onlookers viewed the accident scene from near a D&L trailhead in Bethlehem Township Saturday morning. The trailhead is almost directly opposite the accident scene, which is in Lower Saucon Township.

A temporary sign along Riverside Drive at the entrance to Steel City alerted motorists to the emergency response that is under way. Riverside Drive remained closed at Mathews Avenue, west of the derailment site.

Lower Saucon Fire Rescue’s Steel City fire station was the headquarters for the derailment response, which involves officials from many different state, local and other agencies in addition to Norfolk Southern.

Cars that did not derail could be seen through fog from the opposite side of the Lehigh River. At least eight train cars reportedly derailed, with two ending up down an embankment and one partially submerged in the river.

Fire trucks line Riverside Drive in Steel City, where a press conference was held late Saturday morning. The investigation into the derailment is in its early stages and could take weeks, months or longer to complete.


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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at

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