“The cause [of the June 9 train derailment in Westminster] obviously was the tree stump that was on the track. How the stump came to be on the track is still a matter of investigation,” said Steve Forsberg of BNSF Railway in a telephone interview. (BNSF is formerly the Burlington Northern Santa Fe.)
Forsberg said that BNSF’s police officers will continue to work with the Westminster Police Department to investigate the derailment. BNSF hires “dozens and dozens of police officers” from public departments to work their system, Forsberg said, noting that the officers have the same powers as those on public forces.
Forsberg said the officers, who report to Denver, have the option of working with state and federal agencies if necessary. “At this point in time, the investigation is being handled by the Westminster Police and the BNSF Railway police.”
Forsberg wasn’t sure how fast the train was traveling when it struck the obstruction. “It would have been slowing. The train crew was trying to bring the train to a stop,” but the train “did make impact with the stump,” Forsberg said.
“Fortunately no one was fatally injured,” he said, though a brakeman reported pain in his neck and back and was treated and examined. Forsberg didn’t know whether the brakeman has been released from treatment.
The train held “several thousand gallons” of fuel and had just been refueled. Forsberg offered no firm estimate of how much fuel leaked, saying that the amount would be calculated based on how much was removed from the tanks.
“Where the fuel did leak, there was a dyke created to prevent it from migrating any further,” Forsberg said, adding that BNSF contracted with an environmental cleanup company to handle leaked fuel.
Cost of damages is “something that’s still being assessed… we’re reluctant to put out a number that is not firm,” Forsberg said.
The train was hauling items such as paper, lumber, and malt, Forsberg said, adding that it carried nothing hazardous.
Does the route ever handle hazardous material? Forsberg said there are “not that many trains that use that route,” and few trains carry anything potentially hazardous. He said that most items classified as hazardous are items such as perfume and cologne, cleaning products, batteries, lighter fluid, and paint. He said that only three-tenths of one percent of train cargo is “highly volatile material” such as chlorine or ammonia; thus, it is very unlikely that any given train could possibly release dangerous chemicals.
“Railroads are actually the safest mode of transportation for hazardous material,” Forsberg said, noting that trucks have higher accident rates. Moreover, federal “must carry” regulations require train companies to haul hazardous materials, Forsberg said.
Forsberg anticipated that the area would be cleaned up and the track repaired within 36 hours of the derailment, meaning sometime on June 11. “We’ll see how work progresses today,” he said.
“In the meantime, we’re rerouting trains towards Sterling Colorado, and then coming into Denver from the northeast,” he said.