Thursday, July 29, 2010

Train Derails Near Bosque Del Apache

By John Larson

SAN ANTONIO - Nineteen railroad cars and two locomotives on a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train derailed Tuesday morning which threatened to pollute wetlands at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge with fuel oil.
According to Socorro County Chief Deputy Shorty Vaiza, the train wreck happened at about 6:40 a.m. about one mile south of the Bosque’s visitor’s center.
“The train was northbound when it passed over a trestle,” Vaiza said. “The locomotive pulling the train had just passed over the bridge when it happened.”
The train consisted of 95 cars of mixed freight, en route from El Paso,Texas, to Belen.
The failure of the trestle sent 19 of the railroad cars piling one on top of another into an arroyo. Three of the cars were oil tankers, which began leaking fuel oil. The two locomotives, although derailed, were not thrown off the trackbed.
BNSF spokesman Joe Faust said the specific cause of the accident has yet to be determined.
“The three [tankers] were compromised.” Faust said. “We were able to contain the spill. The chemical poses no threat to any water source or animals or wildlife in the refuge.”
Clean-up crews included personnel from Fish and Wildlife, and they were successful in damming the fuel oil no less than 50 yards from the marshy wetland, but more work needs to be done.
Refuge manager Tom Melanson said the accident - and subsequent fuel oil spill - should not affect the Festival of the Cranes, still three months away.
“All the contaminated surface soil will have to be removed,” he said. “My biggest concern is the possibility of an underground plume forming. That would be the worst scenario from all of this.
“Luckily, the oil was not too viscous, and wasn’t leaking into the dirt rapidly,” Melanson said.
BNSF spokesman Joe Faust said the tracks were cleared as of 1 p.m. Wednesday, and the railroad will be evaluating the cars’ conditions for transportation to various locations.
“What you’ll see in the next few days or so is BNSF crews working around the cars,” Faust said. “The damaged cars are not in an area where they pose a threat to anyone working on them, or to animals or wildlife.
“Environmental remediation is going on as well,” he said.
Fuel oil is not considered as hazardous a material environmentally as other petroleum products, Faust said.
The railroad company is responsible for paying for all clean-up, according to New Mexico State Police Sgt. Jason Green, Incident Commander.

Photos by John Larson

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