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‘A scene out of a movie:’ Port Authority employee Princess describes derailment

August 17, 2018
Princess Ferguson answers questions from members of the media while at the Port Authority offices Downtown, on Aug. 8, 2018. Ferguson, a Port Authority off-board fare collector working at Station Square acted quickly to alert others when cars of a freight train derailed and fell nearby.

Princess Ferguson never thought her Listerine mouthwash could be deadly.

The 14-year Port Authority of Allegheny County employee was working in the Station Square fare booth Sunday afternoon when a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying Listerine and other household products and goods derailed and tumbled over tracks precariously close to the station.

Ferguson, 43, of Pitcairn said the sound was deafening and indescribable. She grabbed her cell phone and ran toward the platform where she directed three passengers who were on it out of harm’s way. She said the passengers followed her instructions.

“I heard all the noise,” she said. “There was a lot of dust, and when I looked up toward the platform that’s when I saw the trains coming over the hillside.

“As soon as they saw the trolleys coming down, everybody just ran, and the dust was behind them and everything and I’m up here like, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!’ It was like we were doing a scene out of a movie. I’m screaming at them like I’m their mom: ‘Let’s go. Get out of here. Let’s go. Let’s go.’”

She and the passengers ran to a safer area at Carson and Smithfield Street.

“After everything settled down the one guy came up to me with a bicycle, and he said, ‘Thank you for everything you just did. You just saved my life,’” Ferguson said Wednesday.

She said she and co-workers have always considered the possibility that a train derailment on the railroad tracks running above the station along the base of Mt. Washington could send cars crashing through the station.

Ferguson said she can’t shake the thoughts of the cars falling over the track. She’s had three sleepless nights, and she doesn’t plan on returning to the Station Square station.

But she will continue using Listerine.

“The only thing I saw was the Listerine, and there were office chairs in there,” she said of the wreckage. “They didn’t give me a bottle of Listerine.”

Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman called Ferguson a hero, and said her first thought was the safety of her passengers, even though she has kids at home.

“She runs toward a freight train derailment, which is either heroic or crazy depending on how you want to look at it,” Kelleman said. “I don’t know if anybody would have run toward a freight train.”

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