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Investigation shows Scotland train derailment resulted in $1.08M in damages

SCOTLAND -- A broken rail has been deemed the probable culprit of a fiery train derailment near Scotland in 2015, causing more than $1 million in damage.

One year after a 98-car train derailed near Scotland, officials have not determined its cause. (Republic file photo)
A broken rail has been deemed the probable culprit of a fiery train derailment near Scotland in 2015, causing more than $1 million worth of damage. (Republic file photo)

SCOTLAND - A broken rail has been deemed the probable culprit of a fiery train derailment near Scotland in 2015, causing more than $1 million in damage.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 2015, seven cars of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad train derailed in rural Scotland and three leaked ethanol onto a pasture, causing a fire to spread along an adjacent creek bed.

On Friday afternoon, the Federal Railroad Administration issued its final report about the incident, which says its investigation discovered several deficiencies in the track in the area of the derailment, including a breakout in the railhead on the north rail and a shelled, spalled and corrugated rail that had been previously marked by a BNSF rail detector operator.

The report says the rail developed a 6-inch vertical split head at some point, but, with a 10 mph speed restriction, the defect was determined to be compliant with FRA's track safety standards.

There was no injuries to the train crew or the public as a result of the incident, and a total of $1,083,009 in damages was reported to structures and equipment. In total, the report says 49,743 gallons of denatured fuel ethanol was released from the train cars.

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According to Amy McBeth, spokesperson for BNSF in South Dakota, BNSF's initial investigation, which is separate from the FRA's, also found that the derailment was the result of a broken rail.

"We conduct an investigation, then other federal agencies can investigate if they choose to," McBeth said. "We want to fully understand what happens in an incident, too, which is why we do our own investigation then submit our findings to the other agencies."

According to the report, the front end of the train had traveled over a bridge, but before the rest of the train cleared it, the train experienced an "undesired emergency brake application" and traveled 80 feet before coming to rest.

The derailment occurred at 6:18 a.m. The train was traveling at the maximum speed of 10 mph at the time of the incident and was traveling a route from Mina, S.D., which is just west of Aberdeen, to Deer Park, Texas.

The report said the point of derailment was on the bridge approach, not the bridge itself. But the derailment from the broken rail, which resulted in the breached ethanol cars and ensuing fire was on the bridge structure, destroying it completely.

The Scotland Volunteer Fire Department was on scene at 6:50 a.m. Other responding agencies were the Lesterville, Scotland, Menno, Tabor and Tyndall fire departments, and BNSF's HAZ-MAT team.

The fire caused by the derailment was extinguished by 12:45 p.m., but crews remained on scene for several hours to monitor the site.

The two crew members on the train at the time of derailment returned negative toxicology reports, but the FRA concluded that fatigue was probable for both crew members and "the employees may have been working at a diminished level of safety due to mental and/or physical attributes." However, the report goes on to say fatigue was not a contributing or causal factor to the accident, and any actions or lack of actions by the employees could not have prevented the incident.

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Additionally, in a four-mile stretch near the derailment site, a joint track inspection between BNSF and the FRA found nine track defects, which included insufficient fasteners at a rail joint, loose joint bars, incorrectly sized joint bars and separated, plugged and silted culverts.

There were two additional locations discovered by the inspectors that were not marked as shelled, spalled and corrugated and should have been, but with a 10 mph speed restriction in place, both defects were determined to be compliant with FRA's track safety standards.

Having final incident reports, McBeth said, also helps BNSF work to prevent future derailments.

McBeth said BNSF trains have a "significantly strong record of safety," but the company is consistently working toward preventing all incidents.

According to information from the FRA, there have been 113 train derailments in South Dakota since 2002, six of which occurred in 2015. The average number of derailments per year in that time was eight, but 2004 and 2005 recorded 16 and 15 derailments, respectively, while 2014 saw only two.

"We continue to work to prevent incidents like this," McBeth said. "The findings we get from these investigations help us to work toward preventing incidents like this."

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