Railroad News

Defective, Unmanned Locomotive Sprays Diesel Fuel Across St. Louis County

(Maplewood, Missouri – April 3, 2012)

A remote-controlled “pusher” locomotive, placed at the end of a Union Pacific coal train travelling from Colorado to southern Illinois, began spraying diesel fuel along UPRR tracks in Valley Park, MO, and continued to contaminate the landscape until the problem was discovered in Maplewood, MO early Tuesday morning about 1:30 A.M. in heavily-populated St. Louis County, MO.

Since the demise of the use of manned cabooses at the end of trains two decades ago, railroads have developed the practice of placing remotely-controlled, unoccupied locomotives at the end of trains to better distribute power and ease train handling. But with every innovation, there are unfortunate drawbacks which can lead to serious problems.

The fuel-spraying locomotive is believed to have begun spewing diesel fuel in the Ballwin, MO area, and leaked the hazardous substance for an estimated 13 miles before the leak was discovered and the train was stopped. Conditions on remote-control locomotives are monitored by the train crew in the cab of the lead locomotive, and the crew noticed that the fuel gauge on the pusher was going down rapidly.

Locomotives carry as much as 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of fuel in their tanks, but Union Pacific officials claimed only 50 gallons were sprayed along the railroad right-of-way and adjacent communities, Regardless, UPRR Hazmat personnel arrived on the scene about 10:00 A.M. to begin lengthy decontamination and remediation operations.