Freight train carrying crude oil derails near Illinois city

Associated Press

March 6, 2015

Smoke and flames erupt from the scene of a train derailment Thursday, March 5, 2015, near Galena, Ill. A BNSF Railway freight train loaded with crude oil derailed around 1:20 p.m. in a rural area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi, said Jo Daviess County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Moser.   
Associated Press


GALENA, Ill.  — A freight train loaded with crude oil derailed in northern Illinois on Thursday, bursting into flames and prompting officials to suggest that everyone with 1 mile evacuate, authorities said.

The BNSF Railway train derailed around 1:05 p.m. in a rural area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi, according to company spokesman Andy Williams. The train had 103 cars loaded with crude oil, along with two buffer cars loaded with sand. A cause for the derailment hadn’t yet been determined. No injuries were reported.

Only a family of two agreed to leave their home, Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said at a news conference late Thursday, adding that the suggestion to evacuate was prompted by the presence of a propane tank near the derailment.

The derailment occurred 3 miles south of Galena in a wooded and hilly area that is a major tourist attraction and the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant. The Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the train was transporting oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region.
 

As seen from near Bellevue, Iowa, smoke rises from a train derailment Thursday, March 5, 2015, near Galena, Ill. A BNSF Railway freight train loaded with crude oil derailed around 1:20 p.m. in a rural area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi. 
Associated Press

Earlier in the day, Moran said 8 tankers had left the track. But Williams said at the news conference that only six cars derailed, two of which burst into flames and continued to burn into the night.

Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path, said Galena Assistant Fire Chief Bob Conley. They attempted to fight a small fire at the scene but were unable to stop the flames.

Firefighters had to pull back for safety reasons and were allowing the fire to burn itself out, Conley said. In addition to Galena firefighters, emergency and hazardous material responders from Iowa and Wisconsin were at the scene.

The derailment comes amid increased public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

Since 2008, derailments of oil trains in the U.S. and Canada have seen 70,000gallon tank cars break open and ignite on multiple occasions, resulting in huge fires. A train carrying Bakken crude crashed in a Quebec town in 2013, killing 47 people. Last month, a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude derailed in a West Virginia snowstorm, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a river tributary and forcing hundreds of families to evacuate.
 



Illinois oil train derailment involved safer tank cars


GALENA, Ill. — The rail cars that split open and burst into flames during a western Illinois oil train derailment this week were retrofitted with protective shields to meet a higher safety standard than federal law requires, railroad officials said.

The fire continued to burn Friday, a day after 21 of the train's 105 cars derailed in a rural area south of the city of Galena. No injuries were reported, but the accident was the latest in a series of failures for the safer tank-car model that has led some people calling for even tougher requirements.

BNSF Railway said in a news release that the train's tank cars were a newer model known as the 1232, which was designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago in hopes of keeping cars from rupturing during derailments. But 1232 standard cars involved in three other accidents have split open in the past year.

Those other accidents included one last month in West Virginia in which a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude derailed, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a waterway and burning down a house. The home's owner was treated for smoke inhalation, but no one else was injured.

Thursday's accident in Illinois led local officials to announce a voluntary evacuation of an area within 1 mile because of the presence of a propane tank near the derailment. Only a family of two agreed to leave their home, Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said Thursday.

A railway spokesman initially said six cars derailed. But in an update Friday, BNSF said it found 21 cars had derailed in an area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi. The company said a resulting fire is believed to have spread to five rail cars, and emergency personnel were trying to contain the blaze.

The train had 103 cars loaded with crude oil from the Northern Plains' Bakken region, along with two buffer cars loaded with sand, according to company spokesman Andy Williams. The cause of the derailment hasn't been determined.

The accident occurred 3 miles south of Galena in a wooded and hilly area that is a major tourist attraction and the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant.

As of June of last year, BNSF was hauling 32 Bakken oil trains per week through the surrounding Jo Daviess County, according to information disclosed to Illinois emergency officials.

Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path, said Galena Assistant Fire Chief Bob Conley. They had to pull back initially for safety reasons, but by midday Friday officials described the area as "stable."

The Federal Railroad Administration said its investigators expected to have access to the site around noon, and it has not yet been able to determine if any crude oil spilled into nearby waterways.

BNSF said it was taking steps to prevent contamination.

Recent derailments have increased public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

Since 2008, oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada have caused 70,000-gallon tank cars to break open and ignite on multiple occasions, resulting in huge fires.

The wrecks have intensified pressure on the administration of President Barack Obama to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars, despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.

Oil industry officials had been opposed to further upgrading the 1232 cars because of costs. But late last year they changed their position and joined with the railway industry to support some upgrades, although they asked for time to make the improvements.