Canadian Pacific Railway Derailment in Iowa – Ethanol Loads Catch Fire
Two Canadian Pacific Railway locomotives and 13 cars derailed yesterday in a remote location north of Dubuque, Iowa (Telegraph Herald, Raw Story). At least 11 of the derailed tank cars were loaded with ethanol – 3 of the tank cars caught fire and were still burning this morning. Local firefighters decided to let the fires burn themselves out.
Another 3 cars plunged into the Mississippi River. Ethanol spilled into the river, and downstream communities were notified by the Department of Natural Resources. Emergency officials established a ½-mile evacuation zone around the train. The remote stretch of track where the derailment occurred made access difficult for emergency crews who were worried about water contamination and the possibility of an explosion. The local fire chief said he expected the clean-up to take days to complete. The extent of environmental damage has not yet been determined.
Ethanol is highly flammable and explosive, and derailments of ethanol tank cars have caused deaths, injuries and serious damage in the past. One such incident in Cherry Valley, Illinois in 2009, saw the derailment of 19 Canadian National Railway tank cars loaded with ethanol, resulting in explosions and fires that killed a person and injured 7 to 10 others who were stopped at a nearby railway crossing. A total of 60,000 gallons of ethanol spilled into a local river and resulted in the single-largest fish kill that was not a natural fish kill in the history of Illinois.
This latest derailment, spill and fire will undoubtedly add to the growing debate about the dangers of transporting dangerous goods by rail.