(Alma and Watertown, Wisconsin – November 7-8, 2015)
Residents in two Wisconsin communities were startled over the weekend, as derailments involving hazardous materials triggered traffic disruptions, hazardous material spillages, evacuations and anxious moments for city leaders in Alma and Watertown, WI.
Separated by a little over 200 miles, Saturday’s Alma and Sunday’s Watertown derailments each saw a train of two different railroads and transporting two highly-hazardous commodities, ethanol and crude oil, derail. In both incidents, a significant number of cars derailed and spilt their hazardous material.
On Saturday morning at about 8:45 A.M., a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train had an estimated 32 cars leave the riverside tracks, some of them carrying denatured alcohol (ethanol, a grain-based additive used in gasoline) and five of which overturned, ruptured, and spilled over 20,000 collective gallons of their hazardous, flammable cargoes into the Mississippi River. The derailment caused the shutdown on both Wisconsin Highways 35 and 37 and the evacuation of about 150 residents within a half-mile distance of the crash site. Alma is a small, picturesque community in northwest Wisconsin’s Buffalo County, near the Mississippi River, which divides the Badger State from Minnesota. River traffic on the Mississippi was also halted during the cleanup, which continued into Sunday and beyond.
“BNSF personnel are working to address the leaks and contain the product,” read a statement released by railroad spokesperson Amy McBeth. “BNSF will work with the EPA and state agencies on the best plan for mitigation and remediation efforts,” the statement continued.
Barely 30 hours later, at about 2:00 P.M., CST Sunday and half a state away, a 100-car eastbound Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil overturned 13 cars of the volatile liquid at a major intersection near the downtown area of Watertown, WI, between Madison and Milwaukee, dumping around 1,000 gallons of the explosive, highly-flammable crude.
Officials evacuated residents from about three dozen homes in the vicinity of the crash scene and basically disrupted the city’s normal, pleasant Sunday afternoon. Accident investigators mentioned that an Amtrak passenger train had successfully passed through the rail corridor over the same track only a short time before the freight train came along and went off the rails.
“We were very fortunate,” surmised Wisconsin State Railroad Investigator Tom Clauder to WISN News. “Watertown’s mayor knows the potential risk from the oil trains that roll through his city.”
“I have communicated to our representatives in Congress, and maybe this will stir them to do something about it,” a concerned Watertown Mayor John David told WISN.