Runaway boxcar report wasn’t the wheel deal

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New London — Contrary to reports, there was never a runaway boxcar on a rail line between Norwich and New London on Friday morning, rail and fire officials say.

New England Central Railroad spokesperson Michael E. Williams said in an email that NECR received a report Friday morning of a rollaway railcar, but the company — a subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming — confirmed the report was incorrect.

The car number in question "has been parked on a siding in Yantic since yesterday, with brakes set, and protected by a safety device that prevents the car from leaving the siding, per standard railroad procedure," Williams said. "As a precaution, the entire rail line was inspected this morning, confirming that no rollaway railcar exists."

He said it seems the caller was confused, not someone carrying out a prank or hoax, but he didn't have more information on that.

Also taking precautionary measures were several local fire and police departments, in what was a crazy morning trying to determine if such a car existed and where it was.

New London Fire Battalion Chief Roger Tompkins said the fire department got a call about 10:15 a.m. that there might be a boxcar that was loose and headed to New London.

Just after 11 a.m., Mayor Michael Passero tweeted that firefighters have "been alerted to a runaway box car heading toward [New London]."

Responders went to Eastern Avenue, which is just north of Interstate 95, and encountered a private contractor who had been notified by a rail official, Tompkins said. They put a device on the rail that would derail a car before it made it under the Gold Star Bridge and to the more populated area of New London.

The New London Fire Department had personnel under the bridge, Tompkins said, but it became apparent about 11:30 a.m. that there was no railcar.

He said seven or eight different agencies responded, including the New London Police Department, Amtrak Police and the Coast Guard.

Reports were that the train car was coming from Norwich, and Yantic Fire Chief Frank Blanchard said his department spent about a half-hour looking. He said responders "went to several locations throughout the district, verified that there was no cars alone on the tracks, or there was no cars that had fallen or come off the tracks."

Tompkins noted that in his 35 years with the New London Fire Department, he has never heard of an actual runaway car. He also noted that the track from Norwich to New London is pretty flat.

e.moser@theday.com

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