Good news: Those evacuated after Watertown derailment get word they can return to their homes

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WATERTOWN -- Officials in Watertown provided an update on Monday evening, November 9th following Sunday afternoon's derailment of a Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil.

Canadian Pacific train derails in Watertown

Canadian Pacific train derails in Watertown

Watertown Mayor John David said all evacuated residents would be allowed back into their homes on Monday night.

35 homes were evacuated out of an abundance of caution following the derailment. Those residents were put up in hotels on Sunday night, paid for by Canadian Pacific.

Holly Griffin and her 20-month-old Tahlia were among the evacuees.

Holly Griffin and her 20-month-old Tahlia

Holly Griffin and her 20-month-old Tahlia

"I was just sitting at home doing laundry and I heard a thud," Griffin said of the derailment.

Griffin was thrilled to learn Monday night she'll be allowed to return to her home -- especially considering Tahlia's five-year-old brother has autism, and needs in-home therapy.

"That would be wonderful being at home, and being back to routine," Griffin said.

13 cars in total derailed on Sunday around 2:00 p.m., and one of those cars was punctured. 12 of those cars has been removed -- to a staging area adjacent to the derailment site. Over the next week, they will be moved roughly a third of a mile to the west, away from the residential neighborhoods, and all product will be pulled from those cars and transferred to empty rail cars being brought in from across the country.

The cars will then be dismantled and recycled or hauled away to shops for repair.

Canadian Pacific train derails in Watertown

Canadian Pacific train derails in Watertown

Officials said on Monday evening a final determination has been made about how much crude oil leaked from that punctured car. We're told 300 to 500 gallons of oil leaked.

The rail car that was punctured has been unloaded, and only a residue of product remains. This car will be cleaned and purged, and then dismantled for recycling.

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. CP is working with the EPA, DNR and Department of Health to implement this plan. When complete, all contaminated soil will be cleaned or replaced, with all contaminants disposed of in an environmentally safe fashion.

Canadian Pacific train derails in Watertown

Canadian Pacific train derails in Watertown

Officials are also monitoring the air.

Officials say air monitoring has not detected any volatile organic compounds in residential neighborhoods. That air monitoring will continue as a precaution while the spilled oil is recovered.

There was hope that the tracks would reopen on Monday evening, and officials said the first train passed the site on a temporary track at reduced speed at 6:15 p.m. Trains will continue operating at reduced speed for now.

The cause of the derailment remains under investigation. We've learned the train that derailed was traveling at about 28 miles-per-hour on a curve with a speed limit of 30 miles-per-hour.

There was no fire, and no injuries reported after the derailment.

On Monday evening, rail safety activist Sarah Zarling hosted a meeting for concerned neighbors.


Meeting for concerned residents after train derailment in Watertown

"This is the second derailment in two days that happened in the state of Wisconsin alone," Zarling said.

Zarling lives just blocks from where the derailment happened in Watertown. She is asking members of the community to write lawmakers and ask for tighter federal regulations for oil trains.

"If this oil must be transported, that it must be done safely. It must be done in safer tank cars that aren`t going to rupture so easily and leak the oil so easily," Zarling said.

"The federal regulations have been in place for some time and are well established. Certainly, they’re the minimum standards. Many railroads go above and beyond those standards," Steve Illitch with the Federal Railroad Administration said.

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

Scene of train derailment in Watertown Monday

FRA officials say they're now focusing on mechanical and track failures as the cause of the derailment.

The track was last inspected on Friday, November 6th, according to FRA officials.

A final cause of the derailment may not come for weeks.

In the meantime, trains are once again passing through the area, albeit at reduced speeds.

"Things have been going well out at the derailment site. The air is very clear and a lot of the dangers that did exist are no longer there," Watertown Mayor John David said.

CP’s claims center will be open at Watertown City Hall from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 10th, and Wednesday hours are planned as well.

There's no estimate at this point as to when all of this cleanup activity will be complete.

Train derailment in Watertown (PHOTO: Karl Zarling)

Train derailment in Watertown (PHOTO: Karl Zarling)

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