By T. Scott Boatright
Lincoln Parish has experienced three train derailments over the past 16 years — the last coming just before 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 2 when 243 freight cars left the tracks in Choudrant.
All three of the derailments have happened over a 2-mile stretch of track owned by Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railroad between the Pleasant Grove crossing in Choudrant and the Ouachita/Lincoln parish line.
During Tuesday night’s Lincoln Parish Police Jury meeting, Lincoln Parish Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Kip Franklin presented a report to the LPPJ describing events surrounding each of those three derailments.
The conclusion was that while a derailment is never good, especially for those living anywhere nearby, Lincoln Parish has probably been fortunate in that those derailments all happened along some of the least-populated stretches of track within the parish.
“We don’t know why, but all three have been westbound trains,” Franklin said.
The first derailment occurred on Monday, Nov. 26, 2007, around 5 a.m. between Crocker Road and the parish line.
“During that incident we had five derailed tank cars that were fully loaded with Budedine, which is a butene product used to manufacture synthetic rubber,” Franklins said. “There were a few other cars that derailed, but there were no leaks involved in that incident, or any of the incidents we’ve had.
“We had approximately 60 parish residents who had to be evacuated and sheltered in that (2007) incident, although some of those might have actually been Ouachita Parish residents. The overall area was shut down for five-plus days and train traffic was back running by Wednesday (two days after the derailment. The chemical was offloaded to other vehicles and then they had to flare and burn the excess still left in the railroad cars.”
The next derailment occurred around 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011, once again between Crocker Road and the parish line.
“That incident involved 32 derailed cars,” Franklin said. “One of them was fully loaded with sulfur dioxide, which is highly flammable. We had no leaks of that but did require four special tanks on 18-wheelers to offload that product. The only leakage we did have from that incident was corn syrup being hauled in tank cars, so I’d imagine the deer population grew tremendously at that time.
“During that incident we had approximately 82 parish residents that were evacuated and sheltered, and again that number included some Ouachita (Parish) residents as well. The area was shut down for four days and train service was running by Wednesday (three days later).”
Last week’s derailment happened around 2:22 p.m. just east of the Pleasant Grove crossing.
“When we arrived on the scene the train was divided into three sections,” Franklin said. “One of the cars was actually dragged on its side attached to the rear car of the part that kept going. But it was divided so that there wasn’t a road blockage or anything like that.
“We had a total of 23 derailed cars in this incident. Of those, five were HazMat tank cars but they were all considered empty. They did have some residue in them, but there weren’t any leaks this time, either.
Franklin said that there are two also near Choudrant Elementary crossings other than the one on Pleasant Grove, and that when the train divided into three sections it still did not block either of the Walker Road crossings or the Pleasant Grove crossing.
“Crocker Road was open on the east end, Walker Road was on the west end and Pleasant Grove in the middle. Pleasant Grove did get shut down to local traffic other than the people who live right there between the railroad and Highway 80. They were still allowed in and out of their homes. There were no evacuations whatsoever.
“Several of the tank cars were carrying lube oil but had no leaks. We had some cars that were carrying aluminum powder, which did cause an initial cloud of dust. When the incident was called in to the Sheriff’s Office, the caller reported the train being on fire, but instead it was just that aluminum dust that looked like smoke.”
Franklin said the multi-response to the incidents included the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office, Louisiana State Police with HazMat personnel, Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District, Choudrant Fire Department, Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office, Ouachita Parish Fire, the Lincoln Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railroad personnel quickly arriving on scene.
“The initial damage assessment was conducted using a Sheriff’s Office drone with infra-red capabilities,” Franklin said. “It’s a much safer assessment than having any kind of ground responders in to do assessments.
“By 10 a.m. the night of the incident the railroad ties and debris from the accident had been pushed out of the way, making it ready to start laying a new track. By 6 a.m. the following morning there were only three cars left to be moved out of the way. The crews were working through excessive heat, but train traffic was rolling through the area 45 hours after the incident with a 10-mph limit.”
Franklin, who said he was told railroad companies lose $1.5-$2 million for every hour a section of railroad track is shut down, also said countless 18-wheels carrying four 140-foot sections of track brought in supplies to make repairs.
“Basically this was the best scenario we’ve had yet for a train derailment,” Franklin said. “We had no fires, we had no HazMat issues, no injuries, no evacuations and only minor road blockages and inconveniences compared to previous incidents. “Our responders are working with the CPKCR adjusters for reimbursement for services provided.
Parish Administrator Courtney Hall added that additional meetings with CPKCR claims department officials are expected to determine reimbursements to the parish for road damages incurred during the derailment and cleanup efforts.
In the end, Franklin again reminded the LPPJ and those in attendance at the meeting that the situation could have been much more difficult to handle if it occurred at a more-populated area along the railroad tracks running through Lincoln Parish.
“When I’m training people to help in this type of event, I kind of joke that this area would be the designated derailment area for Lincoln Parish,” Franklin said. “If it has to happen, we want it right there.
“I hate it for those people living in that area out there where it keeps recurring, but it’s the least populated part of our parish along the railroad tracks. You have an elementary school with 500 students right near there, but none of these derailments affected them. We have two universities and heavier populations elsewhere along the railroad tracks. So strange to say, but we’ve actually been fortunate.”