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Derailment under investigation

By Staff | Mar 14, 2017

SPENCER – The National Transportation Safety Board held a news conference Saturday evening in Spencer regarding the investigation into the train derailment that occurred early Friday near Graettinger.

NTSB Board member Robert Sumwalt said the southbound Union Pacific train with 99 cars of ethanol derailed at 12:50 a.m. about one mile southeast of Graettinger

“Twenty cars derailed and 15 evolved with fire,” he said, adding that two cars were still burning at the time of the conference. “The site of the derailment was by a small timber bridge that spanned Jack Creek and the bridge was destroyed in the accident. The cars that derailed were the 21st through the 40th behind the front locomotives. They were 30,000 capacity tank cars and each carried about 28,800 gallons of ethanol. At least four cars ended up in Jack Creek.”

The Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office originally reported the derailment early Friday when a nearby resident reported the screeching of metal and then saw flames in a farm field along the tracks.

Graettinger firefighters were paged to the scene and established a perimeter along with deputies, the Emmetsburg Fire Department and Graettinger Ambulance Service. Firefighters elected to let the fire burn, rather than attempt to douse the flames.

Residents of four nearby homes within a half-mile of the derailment were asked to evacuate the area to maintain a safe zone. They were allowed to return to their homes at 10:30 a.m. Friday as the fire had reduced in size and the immediate danger had past.

No one was injured in the derailment as both crewmembers escaped unharmed.

Sumwalt said the crews of both the accident train and the preceding train were interviewed. Neither noted any issues with the track.

The site will continue to have limited access as the fires continue. NTSB investigators will be on scene five to seven days to document wreckage and investigate.

“We will be looking for any remarkable damage that will tell the story of why this derailment occurred-any pre-existing damage on the track or with the railcars themselves,” Sumwalt said.

The train was equipped with an event recorder and forward-facing video recorder.

Sumwalt said there was nothing remarkable after viewing the forward-facing video.

The train was carrying ethanol from the Superior Ethanol Plant and was bound for Texas City, Texas.

Union Pacific officials had arrived to monitor the incident at the site Friday afternoon. Clean up crews and equipment began to stage in Graettinger until the burn site is deemed safe.