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Safety probed after rail car workers pass out

Three reported unconscious at GBW Railcar Services

By Ryan Brown

rbrown@altoonamirror.com

Federal safety officials are investigating after three workers were left unconscious Thursday morning at GBW Railcar Services outside Hollidaysburg.

Emergency dispatchers said firefighters were called at

6:52 a.m. to the facility, where workers repair and clean tank cars commonly used to carry liquids and chemicals.

Two workers found one of their coworkers unconscious inside a car he was working on, Blair County Emergency Management Director Mark Taylor said. When they went inside to help, they passed out as well.

Firefighters from Hollidays-burg and Duncansville responded, as did a hazardous materials team from Altoona, dispatchers said.

Taylor said investigators checked the scene for dangerous chemicals but found none. Oxygen levels inside the tank were low, however — a likely cause for the workers’ unconsciousness, Taylor said.

Taylor said he wasn’t certain what work or procedure would cause oxygen to be low inside the tanks. Calls to the GBW Railcar Services headquarters in Kansas weren’t answered Thursday.

Other workers managed to pull their three unconscious colleagues from the car before firefighters arrived, Taylor said. The victims were taken to UPMC Altoona for treatment.

“It was a close call,” Taylor said.

Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor are aware of the incident and an investigation is underway, said Joanna Hawkins, the department’s Philadelphia-based deputy regional director for public affairs.

Hawkins said no inspection history is available for the Hollidaysburg location. Records from other GBW locations across the country show occasional safety violations and fines totaling thousands of dollars; the most recent, closed this month in Washington state, ended with a fine for a leaking or defective safety hose.

The Hollidaysburg location has a capacity of 350 cars and serves the Norfolk Southern railroad, according to the GBW website.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.

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