2 trains loaded with coal and phosphate rock collide in Marion County

Jacksonville-based CSX says over 7,000 gallons of fuel was spilled after 32 cars derailed in Citra, Florida early Wednesday morning. The derailment was the result of a collision of two trains that were headed in opposite directions.

The crash scene appeared horrific, yet none of the four crew members -- two on each train -- was seriously injured.

"The level of damage to the 20 cars, for those guys to walk away basically unscathed, is ... a miracle," said James Lucas with the Marion County Fire Rescue.

CSX said that, at approximately 4:15 a.m. Wednesday, a train transporting phosphate rock collided with a second CSX train loaded with coal near the Pine Church Road crossing in Citra. A total of 32 cars derailed. Neither train was carrying hazardous materials, according to CSX, which has crews working to remove the derailed cars and to clear the area. Cleanup efforts are expected to go on for several days.

"We apologize to the public here for the disruption to our neighbors and to local drivers," said Laura Phelps, a CSX spokeswoman, adding that the company immediately launched its own investigation.

When asked if the collision and derailment was the result of operator error, or if there was a signal malfunction, Phelps said it remains under investigation. CSX would only confirm that one train had pulled off into a siding, presumably to let the other pass.

A source close to the investigation tells FOX 35 that it appears the train on the siding hadn't pulled in far enough, and cars were sticking out onto the main line when the other train heading north smashed into them.

In incidents like this, Phelps said CSX will inspect the tracks, the locomotives and cars, and computer data to figure out if train handling was an issue.

"If someone did drop the ball, we're going to get to the bottom of it," Phelps said. "We want answers just as badly."

Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration are monitoring and investigating the incident, respectively, according to the federal agencies.

Late Wednesday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a public notice of pollution, saying the derailment caused the release of approximately 1,346 tons of coal, 1,150 tons of monoammonium phosphate (fertilizer), 7,400 gallons of locomotive diesel fuel, 77 gallons of sulfuric acid from locomotive batteries, and 10 gallons of locomotive lubrication oil.

"Office of Emergency Response staff were on site and confirmed that there were no visible signs of impacts to waterways," said Jessica Boyd, with Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. "Emergency response and clean-up activities are still ongoing,"

In a statement sent to FOX 35, the FDEP wrote:

"CSX environmental remediation experts and contractors immediately responded on site. The product release did not affect a local waterway or known potable water source. The release is being safely remediated through the removal of impacted product and soil. CSX is working closely with the EPA and Florida DEP on a removal process complying with federal, state and local laws and regulations. The product release is expected to be fully cleaned up over the next several weeks."

The FDEP said there is no known threat to public health or safety.