25 Investigates: Records show Ayer saw another train derailment in 2021

The clean-up of five derailed freight cars hauling recycling and trash through Ayer was nearing completion Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for CSX railroads told 25 Investigates.

Five freight cars loaded with ten containers of recycling and trash toppled while at a dead stop near a residential area in Ayer mid-day Thursday.

No hazardous materials were on board, according to state emergency management and railroad officials.

Rail and transportation engineering expert and litigation consultant Carl Berkowitz said it’s an open question why a stationary train would fall off a track.

He said one possibility is an issue with the track itself.

Otherwise, he said: “there’s no way that a train that’s stationary, no matter how it’s loaded, will fall off that track.”

“I think the railroads have to take this more seriously,” Berkowitz said. “They have to begin looking at what’s causing these problems.”

State and federal law requires that tracks are routinely inspected

This track is partly owned by CSX Transportation.

25 Investigates has requested the most recent inspection report from CSX, and asked if CSX was aware of any issues with the track. A spokesperson for CSX did not immediately provide the inspection report to 25 Investigates.

25 Investigates also reviewed federal reports of train incidents and derailments in Ayer over the past several decades.

The town of Ayer has had a handful of minor train incidents in recent years.

In November 2021, a train derailed 4 cars in a section of track in Ayer near the site of the Thursday derailment. The Federal Railroad Administration report said the incident caused just $27,478 in damage.

And an MBTA train struck an unoccupied vehicle elsewhere in Ayer exactly one year earlier.

The track involved in the Thursday derailment is also jointly owned by Norfolk Southern.

That company is linked to a catastrophic train derailment in February in East Palestine, Ohio, where a toxic spill forced a mass evacuation.

A CSX subsidiary operates the rail line in the Ayer derailment.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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