Ethanol Train Derails, Catches Fire

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 @ 02:09 PM gHale

A 98-car train partially derailed early Saturday in Scotland, SD, leaving a bridge toppled and tanker cars scattered across a pasture.

Seven cars of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) train derailed and three leaked their cargo at 6:15 a.m. in rural Scotland, SD. Neither of the two BNSF crew members on the freight train suffered an injury.

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After derailment, an unknown amount of the ethanol leaked from the tankers onto a pasture and fire spread along an adjacent creek bed.

“There was a pretty good fireball coming out of one of the tanker cars,” Scotland Fire Chief Mike Mehrer said.

Some details of the derailment, such as how many tankers caught fire, are still under investigation by BNSF staff. The cause of the incident remains unknown.

Scotland, Menno, Lesterville, Tabor and Tyndall fire departments all responded to the derailment, but waited until BNSF emergency crews arrived to assist with fire containment. Mehrer said it’s standard procedure to let ethanol burn itself off.

At 2:30 p.m., responders were still working on containing the fire and cooling the tanker cars. Mehrer said the next step for BNSF and emergency responders is to fill the compromised tankers with a special fire-resistant foam to prevent any additional fires or explosions when they remove them from the crash site.

“We don’t see a lot of stuff like this, so naturally we don’t train for a lot of stuff like this,” Mehrer said. “You get a pretty big lump in your throat.”

Andy Williams, public affairs director with BNSF Railway, could not confirm the estimated damage or ethanol loss from the compromised tankers.

When Williams arrived at the scene around 2 p.m., firefighters were still dousing the tanker cars from above the recently collapsed wooden trestle bridge, but he wasn’t yet sure how many BNSF-trained responders were on scene.

Williams said BNSF crews will work to clean up the area, begin rebuilding the bridge and work to open the rail line for future business. He was not sure when the line would reopen, but hopes the issue ends up resolved soon.

Williams said BNSF train derailments are uncommon and more than 99 percent of their ethanol ends up delivered without any issues.

Although tankers leaked and derailed, a bridge collapsed and a grass fire temporarily burned in a small portion of Scotland pastureland, Mehrer said the accident could have been much worse.