UPDATE: Union Pacific begins to remove cars from train derailment
Union Pacific railroad crews began removing box and flat cars from one of the nation’s main east-west lines early Thursday morning after 34 freight cars derailed the day before, causing numerous delays on a stretch of rail 22 miles north of Fallon.
UP Spokesman Francisco Castillo said the railroad hopes to clear the tracks and rebuild the section within 24 hours. He said 30 freight trains have either been rerouted or delayed.
“They will build a completely new rail,” Castillo said, adding the new stretch of line will replace the same section of tracks. “But cleanup will take several days.”
The 51-car train pulled by three diesel locomotive engines was heading north when the derailment occurred Wednesday afternoon. Law enforcement officers and the Fallon/Churchill Fire Department were dispatched to the scene at 3:40 p.m. The straight stretch of track parallels U.S. Highway 95.
The derailed cars came from the center of the train. Castillo said an engine from Sparks arrived Thursday morning to take 17 cars unaffected by the derailment back to the railroad yard.
UP crews first arrived on the scene from Sparks followed by additional railroad personnel from Roseville, Calif. A director of railroad operations also drove in from Roseville Wednesday night.
After crews walked the length of the derailment, Castillo said the number of cars involved in the derailment has been adjusted. He said the number of derailed freight cars was reduced from 47 to 34.
“They were carrying consumer products like TVs, household goods, batteries,” Castillo said.
He said the railroad, along with the Fallon/Churchill Fire Department, took extra precautions to ensure there were no hazardous material leaks.
Churchill County Sheriff Ben Trotter said no one was injured from the railroad due to the derailment.
Because of concerns with a possible HAZMAT spill, however, the Lovelock Highway was closed for two hours, Trotter said. It reopened at 6 p.m. Churchill County Sheriff deputies and Nevada Highway Patrol troopers remained at the scene until they received notification of no HAZMAT spill.
“We got a manifest and checked for cars that had HAZMAT and identified those,” First Assistant Fire Chief Bill Lawry. “We checked the cars for integrity and leakage.”
He said the only leakage was coming from a car filled with wine.
Additionally, Lawry said three engines, a water tender, a HAZMAT vehicle and two command vehicles responded. Two fire engines remained near the derailed cars before they returned to Fallon late Wednesday night.
An inspection safety team from the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the rail lines in the state, also arrived at the site to assess the situation. A spokeswoman said the inspectors are thoroughly looking at the rail lines, traffic and safety devices. Their investigation is separate from UP’s.
Castillo said UP inspectors are also looking at the track’s condition in front of and behind the derailed train.
“They’re inspecting the tracks throughout,” Castillo said.
UP personnel walked the length of the derailment under the starry Nevada sky on Wednesday, shining their flashlights on the derailed cars, many of them piled on top of each other. Debris consisting of torn-up cardboard boxes and goods was scattered for about half a mile along the mushy alkali desert floor.
While UP workers began assessing damage on the closed line, Amtrak did not allow an eastbound passenger train to leave the Reno depot. An Amtrak spokeswoman said Thursday passengers were instead bused to Salt Lake City
Vernae Graham, the director of Media Relations for Amtrak in Oakland, Calif., said three westbound Amtrak passenger trains were idled in Salt Lake City, but those passengers were then bused to the San Francisco Bay Area. Graham said passenger service on Thursday was cancelled.
The railroad line is a major artery between Chicago and the West Coast and follows the same route as the first Transcontinental Railroad.
This is the first major incident to happen on the line near Fallon since June 24, 2011, when a big rig failed to stop at a railroad crossing near Interstate 80 north of the Trinity exit and collided into a westbound California Zephyr passenger train. Six people were killed including the driver of the tractor-trailer that was used for hauling ore.
Portions of the track cross the 40-mile desert, also known for the number of wagon trains that traversed the desolate, parched Nevada terrain in the early to mid-1800s.