Train derailment in Wisconsin sends 2 containers into the Mississippi River, operator says

Apr 27, 2023, 8:58 PM

Train cars fell into the Mississippi River in Wisconsin after a train derailed on April 27....

Train cars fell into the Mississippi River in Wisconsin after a train derailed on April 27. (Provided to CNN)

(Provided to CNN)

(CNN) — A train derailment in southwestern Wisconsin on Thursday sent two derailed containers into the Mississippi River, and at least four employees were injured, according to officials.

The train derailed around 12:15 p.m. local time near the village of De Soto, and all crew members have since been accounted for, according to BNSF Railway, the train’s operator.

At least a dozen train cars were off the tracks, according to video that witness Caitlin Nolan shot. Other images on social media, along with the video Nolan shot, show some of the train cars in the river.

BNSF personnel were headed to the scene, and the cause of the incident is under investigation, the railway said.

The train was carrying hazardous materials, according to Marc Myhre, a Crawford County emergency management specialist. But none of hazardous materials, believed to be batteries, were in the train cars that went into the river, Myhre said.

BNSF said some of the containers that derailed onshore contained paint and lithium-ion batteries. But neither of the two containers that went into the river contained hazardous materials, BNSF said.

“It was reported to us that there were hazardous materials on the train itself, but it is not believed to be a concern to the public or the responders at this time as those cars were contained,” Myhre said during a news conference.

Hazardous-materials crews remained onsite as a precaution Thursday evening since some of the cars not in the river contained lithium-ion batteries, which can have a chemical reaction if they come into contact with water, Vernon County emergency management director Brandon Larson said. The train was also carrying oxygen containers, which can be explosive if not maintained properly.

The units that derailed were two of the train’s three locomotives and “an unknown number of cars carrying freight of all kinds,” BNSF said.

The main track was blocked in both directions after the incident, and an estimated time for reopening the track wasn’t available, BNSF said.

Heavy rain has recently brought parts of the Mississippi River to near flood stage, but the railroad tracks at the site of the derailment were above water, Myhre said.

Officials “still don’t have a determination of what caused this train derailment,” Crawford County emergency management director Jim Hackett said Thursday night.

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy told CNN the agency is gathering information about the derailment. The agency said it has not yet verified whether hazardous materials were on the train.

US Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who represents the area, said his office was coordinating with state officials, BNSF and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “get answers on what occurred.”

The congressman’s staff was traveling to the site of the derailment and will “continue to monitor the situation and determine next steps,” his statement reads.

Nolan was on her way to college at around noon when she saw the derailed train, she told CNN in an interview.

“I didn’t see a fire or smell anything but witnessed multiple cars in the water on both sides of the tracks,” she told CNN. “There hadn’t been any emergency help until after I had passed by,” she said.

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Train derailment in Wisconsin sends 2 containers into the Mississippi River, operator says