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Train with rocket segments first over trestle after repairs

BIRMINGHAM (AP)— Workers who had just finished repairs on a railroad trestle watched in horror while a train hauling 150-ton segments of space shuttle booster rockets derailed as the track collapsed, officials said Thursday.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the accident Wednesday near Myrtlewood, but federal regulators believe a less-serious derailment several days earlier in Kansas was caused by a mechanical problem.

Federal rail officials said there was no apparent link between the two accidents, which occurred with different train lines hauling the shipment.

Six workers were hurt, one critically, when the train carrying eight huge segments of solid rocket boosters derailed about 9 a.m. on Wednesday. The train, with its cargo limited to the shuttle shipment, was headed to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida with booster pieces intended for shuttle launches in October and December.

Warren Flatau, a spokesman with the Federal Railroad Administration, said "a number" of railroad workers or contractors were on hand when the accident occurred at a trestle described as being 650 feet long and 10 feet high.

Repairs and testing of the structure were finished only moments before the crash, he said. The work began Sunday after an inspection conducted by the railroad Saturday.

"It's possible here that they did everything in the most responsible manner they could and still something happened," he said.

Work was performed both on the pilings that hold up the trestle over a boggy area and other parts of the structure, said Mike Williams of Genesee & Wyoming Inc., which owns the train's operator, Meridian & Bigbee of Meridian, Miss.

"It was the first train that went over the bridge after the repair," Williams said from headquarters in Greenwich, Conn.

Kyle Herring, a spokesman for NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the space agency has used the track many times over the years without problems and there was no reason to believe the shipment should have been delayed or diverted because of the trestle repairs.

Williams and Flatau said the investigation will try to determine whether the accident was caused by a failure of the trestle or a problem with the train.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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