Train comes off the tracks in Santa Fe

February 18, 2010 4:25:47 PM PST
At least twenty cars derailed Thursday morning in Santa Fe, prompting a brief evacuation because of a leak. Investigators were on the scene all day, and it could take a few days to get all the cars uprighted and cleaned up. Twenty-two rail cars and tanks in all scattered along the tracks that are the highway for chemicals and bulk materials between Houston, Galveston and Freeport. They flew off the tracks at 5:30am in the heart of Santa Fe, a block from the police station.

"It rattled the building. It was a significant incident," said Sgt. Eric Bruss with the Santa Fe Police Department. "We weren't sure what was going on. We came outside and we could see the smoke and we could obviously see we had a major train event."

To families within a mile of the derailment, that's an understatement. Some 300 homes were ordered evacuated.

"When they said it could be dangerous to all of us, we were all in panic mode," said evacuated resident Paula Fuller. "We had on our pajamas, but ran out the door."

There was hazardous cargo in some of the tank cars -- flammable liquid propane.

"All the propane was contained within the vessels," said Santa Fe Fire Chief Tommy Anderson. "They're double wall heavy duty vessels. They're meant for vigorous use and we were very lucky."

The tank carrying asphalt did rupture, spilling into a feed store parking lot. The building was hit by a railcar wheel. Burlington crews were on scene shortly after the derailment, pulling tanks and rail cars off the tracks. They're the same tracks that have been upgraded in recent years, we're told.

The cause of the derailment is now under investigation.

"We're just going to be adding up all the investigative components that we know cause derailments and find out exactly what happened," said Burlington Northern Santa Fe Regional Manager Steve Curtright.

Burlington Northern hopes train traffic could resume early Friday morning.