Broken Rail Causes Derailment of Union Pacific Train
(Caledonia, Wisconsin – January 19, 2014)
A 135-car Union Pacific train carrying Wyoming Powder River Basin coal to Alliant Energy’s Edgewater coal-fired electrical generating station in Sheboygan, WI derailed 19 carloads of coal after a broken rail resulted in the accident in the small Racine County, WI town of Caledonia early Sunday morning at about 6:00 A.M.
Although the cause was listed as still under investigation by Union Pacific and Caledonia Police personnel, Wisconsin Commissioner of Railroads Jeff Plale went to the site and told the Racine Journal-Times that the probable cause was a broken rail.
“When it gets super-cold, tracks get brittle and can crack like what happened here,” the state’s top railroad regulatory official said.
Plale also said that, although the derailment left behind a significant mess that must be cleaned up, he acknowledged that the twisted metal doesn’t look good, even though the material spilled was classified as non-hazardous.
Due to part of the derailed cars occupying the overpass of Five Mile Road, a main thoroughfare, that route had to be closed to traffic between Wisconsin Highway 38 and Nicholson Road, according to Caledonia Police Lt. Brian Wall.
No prognosis from Union Pacific public relations official Mark Davis was offered as to when the route might re-open. Davis said normal operating speed through the area is 50 mph, but once the tracks are re-opened, trains would be restricted to a 10 mph slow order and gradually increase from there.
Also on the scene was an oversight crew from the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources to monitor cleanup and disposal operations.
Caledonia Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Jeff Henningfield described many of the cars, most of which dumped their multi-ton loads of coal across the extensive area, as “mangled and destroyed.”
In addition, Union Pacific indicated that the accident-remediation activities would result in the removal of as many as 40 trees along the railroad’s right-of-way, an activity which might be considered as a positive move if the trees were adjacent to and obscuring motorist views at grade crossings.