Accident shuts down rail line
Crew member goes to hospital as train wreck blocks route.
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
April 14, 2005
Blairstown, Ia. - Train traffic on a major coast-to-coast freight line was stopped Wednesday afternoon when a train accident just west of Blairstown derailed 11 cars, injuring one crew member.
The derailment happened about 1:45 p.m. when an eastbound Union Pacific coal train was stopped for traffic near Blairstown and another train hit it from behind, railroad officials said.
Two crew members aboard the freight train traveling from North Platte, Neb., to Chicago suffered minor injuries, said Mark Davis, spokesman for the Union Pacific Railroad. A third crew member was transported by ambulance to Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids for non-life-threatening injuries, Davis said.
Dozens of new automobiles on the train were damaged as at least four train cars tipped on their sides, said Michael Ferguson, chief deputy for the Benton County Sheriff's Department.
"You didn't order a yellow GTO, did you?" Sheriff Randy Forsyth said. "We saw one of those."
One rail car full of coal was crushed, leaving coal on the rail bed, Ferguson said. Hazardous materials crews and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources were called because of an estimated 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled.
Federal transportation officials were on the scene Wednesday afternoon to investigate, Ferguson said.
Railroad officials quickly brought in bulldozers and other machinery to clean up the scene, which cannot be accessed directly by road. Union Pacific planned to have the derailment cleaned up by midnight or early today, Ferguson said, but track repairs will likely delay traffic today.
Four or five trains an hour usually pass over the busy rails at Blairstown, Forsyth said.
"A lot of commerce goes through here," Ferguson added. "They're backed up clear across the country at this point."
Davis said crews would work through Wednesday night to replace the damage and clean up the mess. He said there are few detour routes in the area, so rail traffic on the freight line will remain backed up until the scene is cleared.
The last major train wreck in Iowa occurred in Adams County in 2001, when an Amtrak train derailed, killing one passenger and injuring dozens of others. The accident was caused by a defective rail.
Before that, in 1999, a Union Pacific freight train pulling 126 cars slammed into a parked, empty grain train in Alton, killing the conductor and the driver of a van parked near the tracks.
Three months earlier, two Dubuque railroad workers died when the Union Pacific train they were operating hit the end of a Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train.