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BNSF Plans To Reopen Track Today

Sue Stephens and Google Maps
The area near the Mississippi/Galena rivers convergence where a train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire Thursday, March 5. Train tracks are highlighted in yellow.

BNSF Railway crews have been working around the clock all weekend to clean up debris from last Thursday's derailment of oil tanker cars south of Galena, Ill. The goal is to have their north-south main line along the Mississippi River back in operation by the end of today.

Using a temporary road built along the railroad right of way, heavy equipment has been brought in to re-rail eight of the 21 derailed oil tank cars and remove by truck the remainder of the 21 cars that left the tracks.

Galena City Administrator Mark Moran told WNIJ News that one oil tank car was allowed to burn itself out Sunday but was "not a serious concern."

The 105-car train came off the tracks just south of the Galena River near where it joins the Mississippi. Moran said about 300 yards of track needed to be rebuilt and replaced for the line to reopen.

Moran said that "load after load of rock" was placed to build the temporary road along the BNSF right-of-way.  "BNSF crews have been working around the clock," he added.

Firefighters from Galena and supporting departments were hampered getting to the scene after the derailment Thursday because the only available access was via the Galena River Trail, which dead-ends at the river confluence. Moran said the derailment occurred just south of the trail, which runs along the south side of the Galena River.

The train had 103 cars loaded with crude oil from the Northern Plains' Bakken region, along with two buffer cars loaded with sand, according to company spokesman Andy Williams.

The railway said the train was designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago in hopes of keeping cars from rupturing during derailments. The accident was the latest in a series of failures for the safer tank-car model that has led some people calling for even tougher requirements.

"It certainly begs that question when ... those standards failed to prevent leakage and explosions that threaten human safety and environmental contamination," said Steve Barg, director of the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation, which owns a nature preserve several hundred yards from the derailment site.

The area is alongside part of the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge, but there was no indication of any oil contamination there so far, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Georgia Parhan.

Credit Trail Link / Rails-To-Trails Conservancy
The Galena River Trail. The marker shows where the trail ends; the derailment occurred just south of this point.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration. No one was injured in the incident. BNSF Railway employees continue to assist local and federal officials. 

BNSF anticipates that its mainline track can be operational on Monday. A railway spokesman said it has found no evidence of oil in the nearby waterways due to the derailment. Air quality monitoring is also continuing.              

“We are extremely grateful for the efforts of the first responders at this incident and the coordination and cooperation offered by local officials to keep the community safe,” BNSF Railway said in a news update Saturday morning. “BNSF sincerely regrets the inconvenience this event has caused to the community.”

BNSF has established a claims center at the site of the incident to help and assist local residents who may have incurred damage to their property or are in need of temporary relocation