Bad day for a good train crew.
Before I start, I need to thank Matt Furze, Joey Athey for their detective work and most importantly, Julie K. Samuelson, Editor & Publisher, The Western Times, for giving permission to Arizona Rails to use her photographs and newspaper article.
Reuse or copying of items in this web page not allowed without permission of Arizona Rails and Julie K Samuelson.
It started thanks to an unknown person who sent a friend a Power Point slide show about a train crew having a bad day. Some information was included but no one seemed to know the whole story. The friend sent the slide show file to Matt, and asked if he could convert it to a format he could read. Matt converted it to a PDF file, and asked who took the pictures. The friend didn't know, but sent it to Mark to put on the Ponderosa North web site, Arizona Rails. Joey Athey spotted it, and asked for more information. Matt did the online research, eventually finding the info on the FRA site, and Joey then provided the contact information for Julie.
The newspaper article.
The Western Times
Six cars of coal weighing an estimated 280,000 pounds each tumbled into the water with what remained of the Turkey Creek bridge last Friday afternoon, spewing black smoke into the air and tons of coal into the water. The fire was caused by a burned off journal on one of the cars that caused the train to derail, also throwing the train itself into emergency. The train crew had to walk about a half mile back from the lead unit to assess the problem, and by that time the bridge was already on fire. All the crew could do was to unhook the remaining cars on the edge of the bridge and save the remainder of the train. Sharon Springs and Winona Fire Departments answered a call from Casey Rhea, who saw the fire in its infancy while driving by on his way back to Sharon Springs. The call came in sometime between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon and a little over an hour later, the bridge was gone. The bridge was fully engulfed by the time the fire departments arrived on the scene.
Union Pacific currently has men working around the clock in an effort to get the bridge up and useable. The first 30′ span of bridge was completed by Monday noon and the company hopes to be running trains by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. The bridge will not be built of wooden bridge timbers this time around. It will be constructed of steel girders and cement and the span will be shortened considerably.
Wallace and Logan County Sheriff Departments as well as two State Troopers were on hand to control traffic and the rather large number of onlookers who stopped to watch the blaze. There were people sitting along the side of the road in lawn chairs. One of the troopers commented that there were probably more people along the road at the Turkey Creek fire than lived in the entire city limits of Winona that day.
No one was injured in the blaze, which is somewhat remarkable given the extreme combustibility of coal dust. When the bridge finally gave way and the cars started to fall, what coal dust there was ignited and gave off a rather large flash. Luckily, most of [the] crowd had been moved back to a safe distance.
Loss of the cars amounted to almost $246,390 according to current estimates. The cost of clearing the area by contractors is estimated at about $36,000. The cost of the coal itself runs around $12,000 and the bridge replacement itself will run approximately $1.8 million dollars, bringing the total cost of the fire to a whopping $2,094,390.
The Official findings.
It happened on April 12, 2002, at 3:55 PM, near the Wallace Station (Wallace County, in Kansas, near Sharon Springs) in the Denver Division of the UP at milepost 412.5. Temperature was 70 degrees, visibility 2 miles. The train was rated at 13030 tons, and was on a single main line track. The problem car (the one that started the fire) was JAIX reporting marks, road number 001618, the 57th car in the consist. It was a loaded coal hopper. There were 100 cars in the train. Damage estimate: $1,895,816.00. There were no injuries or deaths. The train was under the command of one engineer and one conductor, each of whom had been on the clock that day for 3 hours and 16 minutes when the accident occurred. The FRA (Federal Railway Agency) comments regarding the accident:
CREW STOPPED TRAIN TO INVESTIGATE CAUSE OF SMOKE AND BEARING FAILURE ON LOADED COAL CAR,
WHICH HAD STOPPED ON TOP OF A WOODED BRIDGE, CAUSED HEAT TO IGNITE BRIDGE AND LADING AND SURROUNDING GRASS, COMPLETELY DESTROYING BRIDGE.