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Remote control derailment spills diesel fuel

(The following story by Linda N. Weller appeared on The Telegraph website on July 28.)

ALTON, Ill. -- Environmental cleanup crews worked for hours Tuesday to stem a leak in a diesel fuel tank and to clean up several hundred gallons of fuel that spilled when a remotely operated locomotive partially slipped off railroad tracks at Cut Street.

Responders from the Alton Fire and Public Works departments quickly contained the puddles of fuel on both sides of the train tracks by piling soil dikes about 2 feet high. The men used two dump truck loads of dirt that Public Works employees had hauled in; another worker used a backhoe to shore up the sides.

Firefighters from two engine companies at Station No. 2 used a wedge, pads and duct tape to plug the leak in the tank. They also placed hazardous materials mats on the fuel surface to absorb some of the estimated 500 gallons of the liquid lying on the ground. Some fuel bubbled up in the ballast, or rocks.

The firefighters ran lengthy water supply and hand lines to the site as a precaution.

The department’s Rescue 1 truck, Fire Chief Tim Spaulding and Assistant Chiefs Brad Sweetman and Greg Bock also were early responders.

The locomotive’s 3,200-gallon fuel tank hangs below the engine, just over the tracks. It punctured when it scraped against the rails during the derailment. The locomotive is an EMD engine, or Electro-Motive Division of General Motors Corp., that operates by remote without a conductor.

Rudy Husband, director of public relations for Norfolk Southern in Philadelphia, said the cause of the derailment was under investigation.

Norfolk Southern staff at the scene declined to comment.

Someone called 911 at 9:18 a.m. to report that the westbound engine pulling several cars had slipped off the tracks where they intersect with the south end of Cut Street. The train did not tip over, but it mangled one rail of the tracks. The derailment dislocated wheels on both the engine and the first "auto rack" car behind it that transports automobiles, causing them to churn up piles of ballast.

The remote area is about a quarter-mile south of East Broadway, just south of the entrance to the old Jefferson Smurfit Corp. facility at 10 Cut.

After the call-out, Spaulding notified Jack Quigley, Madison County Emergency Management Agency director. The railroad called Odesco Industrial Services Inc. of South Roxana to drain the engine’s fuel tank and Bellon Environmental Co. of St. Louis to remediate the polluted soil and rock.

Spaulding said the first priority was to plug the leak until Odesco workers could arrive to drain the tank. Capt. Kendal Nolle and engineer Brian Evans of the Alton Fire Department began plugging the leak immediately upon arrival.

Sources at the site said they initially thought the tank might have been carrying 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel, but Husband could not verify that amount.

At 9:50 a.m., the chief asked the Wood River Fire Department to send its foam pumper on standby in the event of a fire. Spaulding, however, said he thought the risk of a fire igniting was not great, because diesel "is not that flammable."

The truck carried protein foam, a smelly, frothy tan substance made from animal byproducts that keeps hazardous fumes from being emitted and extinguishes fires, said Capt. Brendan McKee of the Wood River Fire Department, who manned the pumper with firefighter Jeff Norton.

Alton police notified the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in Collinsville about the spill, said Tom Powell of the IEPA.

Powell arrived at 10:55 a.m. to check the extent of the leak and discuss possible remediation methods.

"I talked to them about the need to put in French drains, remediating the ‘gross,’ heavier contaminated soil and ballast for some of the perimeter areas," he said. "They also might treat the area with micro-organisms" that eat the fuel.

A French drain, he said, is a pipe with one end capped off and buried in an area that had been contaminated, as opposed to digging an open trench to collect the liquid. Environmental workers then can check the pipe to determine whether any of the contaminant accumulates.

Powell said Bellon Environmental would conduct soil tests, do remediation and send reports on the incident to the IEPA.

From his observations, Powell said he would not categorize the Alton leak as being large or unusual.

"We are fortunate that we don’t have houses around here; people might be smelling it and finding it objectionable," he said. "Diesel fuel is the Number One material that is spilled in the state of Illinois."

No one was injured.

Mike Guss, safety manager at Bellon, said his crews would dig out the tainted soil and continue excavating until they reach clean dirt.

"Anything contaminated, we will remediate and haul to the landfill, and then backfill it with clean fill, probably ballast," he said.

When the Bellon cleanup workers arrived on the scene at 11:25 a.m., they carried large black metal drums, in which they deposited the dripping wet absorbent pads. The men dumped absorbent rock, similar to kitty litter, and put down new pads to further soak up the diesel.

Spaulding said the department would ask that the railroad reimburse the city for the cost of the pads, and possibly for other expenses, as required by city code.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

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