Hawkins County Sheriff Roger Christian said he understood there were no injuries when the train derailed on a stretch of track along TennesseeRoute 66 "on the Rogersville side of the U.S. Fence plant."
Susan Terpay, a Norfolk Southern spokesman at the company's Norfolk, Va., headquarters, said on Friday afternoon that the 106-car freight train, which was headed by two locomotives, had been traveling from Williamson, W.Va., to Spencer, N.C., when the first 17 cars behind the locomotives derailed.
Terpay said the cause of the derailment remains under investigation.
She noted that 16 of the 17 cars that derailed were carrying "crushed limestone," while the 17th was carrying coal. All the freight cars behind those that derailed were loaded with coal, she said.
Another knowledgeable source explained that, typically, the trains from Williamson haul coal from the coal fields of West Virginia and Virginia to be used in electric power generating plants in the southeastern U.S.
Line Closed For Now
Terpay said that the railroad was bringing in "special equipment" to place the derailed cars back on the tracks. But she said she did not know how long it would take to complete that task.
Although the cars derailed on a siding, Terpay said, at least some of them were "leaning" over the railway's "main line" north of Bulls Gap.
She explained that Bulls Gap is a Norfolk Southern junction point where several Norfolk Southern "main lines" intersect.
The particular main line affected by the derailment, the other source told The Greeneville Sun, is often referred to as the Bulls Gap-to-Andover, Va. line, or the "Appalachian Line."
Terpay said that the section of that main line affected by the accident will remain closed to rail traffic until the derailed cars can be placed back on the track.
Fortunately, she added, no other trains were scheduled to use that section of that line on Friday.
Traffic on the separate Norfolk Southern main line that runs from Bristol through Johnson City, Greeneville and Bulls Gap and on to Knoxville was not affected by the Friday derailment on the other line, Terpay stated.
Greeneville resident Mary Beckner said she had happened upon the derailment while driving toward Bulls Gap on Highway 66 on Friday afternoon.
When she reached the scene, she said, there was still a "dust cloud" hanging in the air and several train cars were overturned near a section of twisted railroad track rails.
Rogersville Review reporter Bill Grubb, who had been to the scene on Friday afternoon, said later Friday afternoon that the derailment took place shortly before 2 p.m.
Friday in the White Horn community, a few hundred yards from the intersection of Tennessee Rt. 66 and Guthries Gap Road.
That location, Grubb said, is about three miles north of the intersection of Highway 66 and U.S. Highway 11E in Bulls Gap.
Grubb told The Greeneville Sun that Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell told him none of the derailed freight cars was carrying hazardous cargo.
"It's a mess," Grubb said of the derailment scene, noting that the Norfolk Southern train had been traveling toward Bulls Gap when it derailed.
Bulls Gap Recorder Lorraine Heck said Town of Bulls Gap sewer department workers who had been working along Highway 66 on Friday afternoon told her it appeared that at least "seven or eight cars" had derailed.
Heck said units of the Bulls Gap Volunteer Fire Department had responded to the scene along with other Hawkins County emergency agencies.
However, Bulls Gap resident Tom Laster, who had been to the scene, estimated the number of derailed cars at as many as 15. Laster also described some of the derailed cars as "standing on their ends."