Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Freight Train With Unstable Cargo Explodes - Again

Second Major Rail Incident in a Month
Shipping News Feature

US - Less than a month after the last serious accident involving a freight train carrying chemicals, when wagons with a cargo including ethanol left the tracks and exploded causing a fire visible ten miles distant, another, virtually identical accident has occurred in a relatively sparsely populated area of eastern Montana, fortunately without loss of life, in another chilling reminder of the inherent dangers of transporting unstable inflammable materials by any haulage method.

Of the 106 car train heading to Laurel, Montana from Aberdeen, South Dakota, sixteen rail cars caught fire and six cars exploded. Fifteen of these tanker cars were carrying the fuel additive denatured alcohol (methylated sprits) with one car hauling cardboard. The freight train, belonging to Warren Buffett’s Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway, derailed on Sunday 5th August between Baker and Ismay. BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said:

"It was a chain reaction of one car catching fire and another car catching fire as well. It's a fuel additive. There are no air-quality issues. They are letting the product burn."

Firefighters retreated to a safe distance half a mile away whilst the cars exploded, after rushing in to extinguish the grass fires which they were still cleaning up seven hours after the derailment. Firefighter Kelly Gray of Plevna told a local newspaper how they were just waiting for the cars to blow up and got more than they bargained for with ‘a good mushroom percussion’ and how the heat made it feel like their eyebrows were going to singe.

BNSF crews intend to remove the damaged cars and replace about 1,100 feet of track and ties and have the line open and operational as quickly as they can. The track is used by eight to ten trains a day with some trains currently being re-routed due to the derailment. As with the recent Columbus, Ohio incident an investigation is under way to determine the cause.