Norfolk Southern Railway officials are investigating how three top-loading train cars rolled onto the company’s main track line in Jonesborough, traveled 10 miles and through numerous crossings before losing momentum in Piney Flats Wednesday night.
NFS Public Information Officer Susan Terpay said the cars — called gondolas — were loaded with scrap metal from OmniSource in Jonesborough.
“They were bringing in empty rail cars and picking up loaded ones. Those cars, during the switching operation, rolled onto our main line,” Terpay said.
The incident began a short time after 9 p.m. and the cars finally stopped in Piney Flats around 9:50 p.m.
Terpay said the cars went through “at least two dozen” railroad crossings, some with automatic gates and lights and some with no warning system.
The gondolas traveled into and through downtown Johnson City, through a portion of Carter County and on over to Piney Flats before stopping.
Terpay said the gondolas stopped on their own and a locomotive caught up to them in Piney Flats.
Terpay said she didn’t know the speed of the train cars as they traveled on their own toward Piney Flats.
“The terrain is such that there was a decline and then an incline,” she said. That incline is what depleted the gondola’s momentum.
According to a Federal Railroad Administration website database, most of the crossings through Johnson City are equipped with gates, which are automatically triggered when a train nears the intersection.
Exceptions to that are City Garage Road, which has no markings at all and New Street, which has stop signs.
Runaway train cars are highly “unusual,” Terpay said, and the incident is under investigation.
Terpay said there were no reports of injuries associated with the incident and no other information was available Wednesday.