The National Transportation Safety Board continues their investigation into Friday's train derailment in Paulsboro but has not yet been able to physically inspect the bridge or acutal train cars yet


NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman at a Sunday press conference (WPVI TV)

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman says they are deferring to the US Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine that the air around the site is safe for investigators and crews removing the cars out of the water and emptying tanker cars of the remaining chemicals.

"The first concern is evacuating the hazardous materials and making sure it's safe to enter (the area)," Hersman said.

Investigators have spoken to the train's engineer, a 10 year veteran who had worked this route many times, and the conductor, who was new to the route, and found their stories consistent with that of information downloaded from the train's on-board monitors and of those first on the scene.

Among those first responders, says Hersman, was Paulsboro's Deputy Fire Chief, Lt. Joan Lutz,  who lives near the railroad. After some confusion about what was leaking from the tanker car, Lutz was able to identify it as vinyl chloride by using binoculars and reading the number on the tanker.

Hersman says the locomotive was moved from the area as not to provide a spark for a possible fire or explosion.

Hersman says the bridge is not actually collapsed but visual inspection shows much damage.

Inspectors have also checked the keypad used by the engineer to change the bridge's signal from red to green and found it in proper working order. After the conductor walked to the bridge early Friday morning and saw nothing that appeared to be wrong a dispatcher gave verbal approval to cross. The engineer says the bridge began to "collapse" after the 2 locomotives and first 5 cars got across.

Hersman stressed the signal is just one part of the investigation and an inspection has not yet been done of the bridge including the locking mechanism.

Conrail workers were on the bridge the day before the derailment presumably looking into reports from residents of loud noises coming from the area of the bridge in recent days. The NTSB is still awaiting inspection records of the bridge and the tracks from Conrail.