Mt. Vernon Register-News

December 31, 2012

Local agencies react to train derailment


MT. VERNON — — The Mt. Vernon Fire Department and the Mt. Vernon Police Department responded to a trail derailment reported at 6:23 a.m. Sunday morning.

The derailment occurred in the area of Liberty Road and Rackaway Road on the east side of town. Some roads, including Liberty Road at Jefferson County Animal Control and Perkins Avenue at Shawnee, were closed off for the safety of the public and those responding to the scene.  Mt. Vernon Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Sargent said eight cars derailed and he could not even begin to guess the extent of the damage or what caused the train to derail.

“It tore up the rail cars [and] it tore up the rail road tracks, which were all messed up,” Sargent said.

One rail car carried 30,000 gallons of liquid ethanol gas, Sargent said, some of which leaked out after the derailment.

“We estimate anywhere from 3,400 to 5,000 gallons were released,” Sargent said. “We were able to stop the leak early. There never was a real danger to the public, per se, this morning.”

The ethanol that leaked was in liquid form, Sargent said. He added that ethanol is a highly hazardous material and is always dangerous and highly flammable.

Because of the cold temperatures and the location of the derailment, the vapors did not spread rapidly, Sargent said. The area is mostly businesses, but there are some residential properties in the area.

“We didn’t have any residents in harm’s way, but we were constantly monitoring the scene,” he said. “We didn’t have strong winds and the cold temperatures kept the problems in check.”

The scene was cleared by the fire department at approximately 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, Sargent said. Officials from Norfolk Southern Railroad arrived on the scene within an hour of the derailment and will be investigating the cause of the crash in addition to cleaning up the damage.

“They were able to find the leak and they were able to plug the leak,” Sargent said.

He said the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency were also called to the scene because of the hazardous materials released.

The dirt in the area will have to be dug up and disposed of, as well as monitoring of water in the area for an unspecified amount of time, Sargent said.

“I don’t think, at this point, there is any concern,” he said. “At least, they didn’t tell me there is any concern.”

Sargent said he can’t praise the response from city officials, the HAZMAT team, the police department and all the others who worked the scene enough for the work they did.