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Union Pacific derailment explained to Colfax City Council

By: Will Stockwin
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COLFAX — A cold rain was turning to snow on Feb. 22 when the City of Colfax experienced its second Union Pacific (UP) freight train derailment in five years. The wreck was caused when three tank cars jumped the tracks in the middle of town, resulting in a lengthy shutdown of all vehicle and rail traffic through the city’s main intersection.

Francisco Castillo, Union Pacific Director of Public Affairs, appeared before the Colfax City Council at its March 14 meeting to allay the city’s concerns regarding rail safety following the accident.
Castillo confirmed that the city had gotten lucky again because the three derailed tank cars were empty when they crashed. “There were no injuries and no hazardous releases, and the train crew brought the train to a safe stop without further damage,” he said.

He said the accident was caused by a “mechanical problem” when one of the car’s wheels began dragging against the rail instead of rolling, eventually forcing the car to lift up and derail taking two other cars with it.
CalFire crews got to the scene quickly, but pulled back to allow the UP contractor to begin clearing the tracks after determining that there was no hazardous material release or immediate fire danger.
Castillo said the mess ended up in the middle of town “because it was a 109-car train and it takes about a mile to bring that many cars safely to a full stop.”

He said 30 damaged concrete ties had to be replaced following the accident and that roughly 200 more would also be replaced later this spring.

The three damaged tank cars were reassembled the day following the accident and parked in the city’s rail yard, where they remain. Castillo said the owners of the cars would be responsible for repairing them and then getting them re-certified as safe before they could be put back in service.

According to Castillo, 10 to 15 freight trains pass through Colfax on any given day.

CalFire Battalion Chief Brian Eagan reminded everyone that the “reverse” 9-1-1 alert system that automatically notifies citizens of potentially hazardous situations via phone would not go to cell phones unless they have been registered at www.placeralert.org.

The only other piece of council business, regarding an agreement with Vision Quest for information technology services, was tabled until the March 28 meeting.