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Search for answers: Cleanup enters day 2 after train carrying crude oil derails

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WATERTOWN -- Cleanup continues in Watertown after a Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed Sunday afternoon, November 8th.  Dozens of homes were evacuated as a result.

Officials say this could have been worse, as an Amtrak passenger train traveled the rails just before this derailment.

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

"I was literally going about my life, making lunch, watching the oil train go by out the window, like I do every day -- and the next minute 'boom!'" Sarah Zarling said.

Canadian Pacific officials say the derailment happened just after 2:00 p.m. An eastbound train carrying crude oil, en route to Chicago, derailed in Watertown. Dodge County Office of Emergency Management officials say this derailment occurred near West and Milford.

FOX6 News has confirmed through CP officials that this train was coming from North Dakota, and it was carrying Bakken crude oil.

Zarling says she's been warning about an incident like this for some time.

"I'm not an anti-train activist. I'm a rail safety activist. There's a big difference. If these oil trains are going to come through, they need to be done safely and right now that`s not happening," Zarling said.

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

During a news conference Monday morning, November 9th, officials said the cause of the derailment is unknown and remains under investigation. The FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) says preliminary findings show no indication the derailment was due to a criminal act.

Train derailment in Watertown (PHOTO: Karl Zarling)

Train derailment in Watertown (PHOTO: Karl Zarling)

Canadian Pacific officials say the train was 110 cars long -- and 109 of those cars was carrying crude oil. Thirteen rail cars are confirmed to have derailed. One of those cars was punctured and spilled product. We're told there were no reports of fires or injuries.

When asked what was the worst that could've happened as a result of this derailment, Watertown Fire Chief Gregory Michalek said there could have been a fire, but he said an explosion wasn't likely.

"It’s a non-pressurized tank car. So in order for it to explode, typically you have some type of pressure with that. All it is is a gravity tank. So the possibility of one of those tanks blowing up is very low. It’s not like a propane tank car they’ve seen in the past where they’ve rocketed half a mile down the tracks. It doesn’t happen with these type of cars," Watertown Fire Chief Gregory Michalek said during a news conference Monday morning.

Canadian Pacific officials confirmed Sunday the leaking rail car had been sealed, and spilled product was contained and siphoned off, and no product reached waterways.

Canadian Pacific and its contractors are establishing a soil remediation plan with a focus on protecting the environment. That will involve hauling away contaminated soil.

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

An updated preliminary report now indicates that 500 or fewer gallons of product spilled from the punctured car and CP officials say "we are working to confirm an exact number."

Officials say environmental monitoring is taking place. So far, no air monitoring readings have exceeded safe levels. That monitoring is ongoing.

Canadian Pacific officials say a temporary track is being set up for placement of derailed cars, and on Monday afternoon, CP officials said 12 of the 13 derailed cars had been re-railed, and those cars were being "carefully moved" to an adjacent site for evaluation.

It was determined that the one remaining car cannot be safely removed, so it will be unloaded into containers and scrapped.

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

Again -- the cause of the derailment is under investigation.

"The Federal Railroad Administration responded the scene with six investigators initially. We’re bringing in additional three (Monday) morning. We conducted an initial investigation into all areas. We’re not ruling anything out at this point. It’s very preliminary. We’ll be focusing on track mechanical, signal system, also our operating practices. So we are on scene. We’re doing this investigation. It is very preliminary. We will take our time. We will go through and look at all aspects of the accident. We will look at all aspects of federal compliance for CP rail. We will release our findings in several months. We’ll have an initial or preliminary cause. At this point we have no indications that it is criminal. However we aren’t ruling anything out until we have our chance to do our full investigation. The actual cause of a derailment could be anything from mechanical, track related, signals -- again it’s very early to make those determinations. But we looked at several key areas, obviously the track being one of them and then we’ll work with the railroad," Steve Illitch with the Federal Railroad Administration said.

As a precaution, 35 homes near the derailment site have been evacuated. Residents who have been evacuated have been put up in hotels, courtesy of Canadian Pacific.

Officials with the Watertown Fire Department will revisit the evacuation order at 6:00 p.m. Monday, November 9th. A claims center has been set up at City Hall in Watertown, and a railroad representative is on site Monday to handle any questions and issues from 8-10 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.

Residents can call the non-emergency number for Watertown Dispatch at 920-261-6660 to get further information on returning to their residences.

An investigator with the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Railroads says it is hopeful the railroad tracks will reopen around 6:00 p.m. Monday. This will not happen until track is installed, and all inspections are complete. Trains will then be allowed to pass through at a reduced rate of speed.

"There is certainly track damage as a result of this incident and prior to reopening the rail line we will certainly do thorough inspection just to insure that the track is safe to operate. At this time our focus is on safety as we work to recover from this incident," Andy Cummings with Canadian Pacific said.

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

Amtrak officials told FOX6 News service on "Amtrak Empire Builder Train 7" was impacted by this derailment. Train 7 was to return to Chicago Sunday, and the train was set to resume service Sunday evening with a detour from Chicago to LaCrosse.

Amtrak officials said they would provide alternate transportation for passengers traveling to destinations between Chicago and LaCrosse.

This train has 148 passengers, and travels daily between Chicago and Seattle.

Some on board that Amtrak train told FOX6 News they'd been stuck in Racine for hours, as of Sunday night.

That train did return to Union Station in Chicago late on Sunday night -- and the more local passengers were put on buses that would take them to their destinations. The rest resumed travel on the "Empire Builder" -- taking a different route from Chicago to LaCrosse.

We're told that "Empire Builder" train was running about 12 hours behind schedule on Monday on its northern route.

This incident in Watertown came just one day after a train derailment in western Wisconsin.

Alma train derailment

Alma train derailment

Crews are working to clear a freight train derailment near Alma that spilled thousands of gallons of ethanol.

The train derailed Saturday about two miles north of Alma, a town along the Mississippi River. Some of the 25 derailed cars were empty auto racks and tanker cars.

BNSF says railroad crews stopped the leaks from five tanker cars and placed containment booms along the shoreline. One tanker released an estimated 18,000 gallons of ethanol, and the other four released an estimated 5 to 500 gallons each.

No one was hurt. BNSF expected the tracks would return to service Monday morning.

FOX6's Brad Hicks has done a series of investigations as it relates to train cars carrying crude oil. FOX6's "Risk on the Rails" series won an Emmy award on Saturday night, November 7th in Chicago.

Additionally, the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) has awarded FOX6 News a 2015 National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Best Reporting - Hard News" for "Risk on the Rails."

CLICK HERE to view Brad Hicks' "Risk on the Rails" coverage.

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