A freight train derailed in Northeast Washington late last night, blocking Metro Red Line tracks and arousing concern about possible hazards from chemicals carried on the train, authorities reported.
A spokesman for the CSX Corp., the operators of the freight train, said the train's cargo included nitrocellulose. The material is flammable and explosive in confined circumstances.
Drums of the chemical were scattered around the scene last night. Materials to reduce or eliminate any possible hazard were brought into the city last night in a tanker truck from Virginia.
Meanwhile, D.C. police and fire officials said early this morning that they were evacuating residents within two blocks of the derailment site, near Second and Nicholson streets NE.
The accident, which occurred north of the Fort Totten Red Line station, appeared similar to the June 19 CSX freight derailment that occurred near the Takoma station, about a mile north of the site of last night's derailment.
The June derailment disrupted Red Line service for three days and provoked concern about safety in the corridor from Silver Spring to Union Station, in which freight trains and Metro trains run on parallel tracks only a few feet apart.
Although Metro was still operating when last night's accident occurred at 11:23 p.m., the transit agency said no Metro trains were in the vicinity of the derailment, which involved 14 railroad cars.
A CSX spokesman said the freight train consisted entirely of flatbed cars with trailers or containers mounted on them and holding freight.
The CSX spokesman said four locomotives were pulling 90 cars, 88 carrying freight and two of them empty. He said the middle cars of the train, numbers 45 through 58, jumped the track.
Metrorail service north of the affected area was shut down last night after the derailment.
"There's no question that the derailed cars are on our property," said Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg. She said early this morning that the extent of disruption to service today could not immediately be determined.
She said Metro planned to provide a bus shuttle around the affected area today.
"It's serious," Silverberg said. "It's both of our tracks that are involved." In the previous accident, she said, only one track was affected.
CSX spokesman Woodruff M. Price said that although many of the 200 drums of nitrocellulose on the train apparently spilled from their container, only one of them broke open.
One of the best known forms of nitrocellulose is guncotton, which is used in the manufacture of plastics and some explosives. Wet guncotton is safer to handle than dry, and it will not explode unless another explosive sets it off.
Authorities said last night that the nitrocellulose involved in last night's incident was shipped in alcohol. Because the nitrocellulose was in alcohol, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department sent about 1,000 gallons of an alcohol-based foam to the accident site early today, said county fire Lt. Ralph Phillips.