Railroad bridge near Scotland replaced; investigation ongoing
SCOTLAND – Rail service has resumed, but the clean-up continues following the recent derailment of ethanol tanker cars and ensuing fire southeast of Scotland.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train derailed Sept. 19 in Bon Homme County. The 96-car train was crossing a wooden bridge around 6:15 a.m. when the derailment occurred. Seven cars filled with ethanol went off the tracks, with three cars breached and spilling ethanol that caught fire.
No injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred just north of S.D. Highway 46. The immediate site was sealed off by federal and railroad officials.
The tracks re-opened Sept. 23, BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth told the Press & Dakotan.
“The bridge was destroyed in the incident. It was replaced with large 9-foot culverts,” she said. “This is common for replacement projects. Across our railroad, when we have planned bridge replacement projects, we look to use culverts for their efficiency and better maintenance.”
NTSB crews are continuing clean-up work in the aftermath of the accident, McBeth said.
The BNSF maintained service for its customers even during the disruption, McBeth said.
“There was very minimal impact to traffic on the route,” she said. “We were able to effectively reroute traffic while that area was out of service, but since (last) Wednesday the tracks have been re-opened.”
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is continuing its investigation into the accident, NTSB spokesman Terry Williams told the Press & Dakotan.
The investigative groups are: operations, track, mechanical, hazardous materials and emergency response, he said.
The NTSB has concluded its on-scene work, and agency officials are no longer stationed at the accident site, Williams said. However, the investigation remains in its initial phases.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” he said. “It will be approximately a year before we have probable cause of the accident.”
The NTSB is moving to the next phase of its investigation, Williams said.
“We will continue gathering information on the crew, such as training and 72-hour sleep/rest, (along with) maintenance, inspection of the train and information related to the track,” he said.
Williams released initial findings to the Press & Dakotan immediately after the derailment.
The BNSF train consisted of two locomotives, 96 tank cars loaded with ethanol and two buffer cars, Williams said. “The track speed was 10 miles per hour (mph), and the train was traveling 10 mph,” he said.
In addition, the NTSB released the finding that the derailment consisted of seven cars, of which three breached and released its contents.
However, the NTSB didn’t indicate whether the train derailed because of the collapsed bridge or whether the bridge collapsed because of the train derailment – or a combination of both.
Those findings will likely come later in the investigation.
As of now, Williams has no further information to release. “I do not have an update at this time,” he said.
The derailment prompted former state legislator Frank Kloucek of Scotland to call for improvements on BNSF lines in South Dakota, including rail crossings. Kloucek noted the importance of rail service to the state, particularly agriculture.
The BNSF incident and disruption raised questions of what area farmers can expect for rail service during harvest season should such accidents occur.
The rail company remains committed to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible, McBeth said at the time of the accident.
“When an incident like this happens, we can re-route traffic with relative ease, which is what has been occurring for shipments originally scheduled through this corridor,” she said.
“Customers may experience delays of 24-48 hours on shipments through the corridor.”
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