On March 10, 2017, about 12:50 a.m., central standard time, eastbound Union Pacific Railroad unit ethanol train, UEGKOT-09, with 3 locomotives, 98 loaded tank cars, and 2 buffer cars filled with sand derailed near milepost 56.8 at a timber railroad bridge near Graettinger, Iowa. Twenty loaded tank cars in positions 21 through 40 derailed. Fourteen of the derailed tank cars released about 322,000 gallons of undenatured ethanol, ethyl alcohol without a denaturant added to it, fueling a postaccident fire. The accident occurred near Jack Creek, a tributary of the Des Moines River. There were no injuries and three nearby homes were evacuated. About 400 feet of railroad track and a 152-foot railroad bridge were destroyed in the accident. Union Pacific Railroad estimated damages, excluding environmental remediation or the cost of clearing the accident, at $4 million. At the time of the accident, the wind was from the northwest at 17 mph gusting to 30 mph, visibility was 10 miles, and the temperature was 10°F.
The following are safety issues in this accident:
Adequacy of Union Pacific Railroad’s track maintenance and inspection program
Adequacy of the Federal Railroad Administration’s oversight
Transportation of fuel ethanol without the use of volatile organic chemical denaturants
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the derailment was a broken rail that occurred as the train was traveling over the west approach of the Jack Creek Bridge resulting from Union Pacific Railroad’s inadequate track maintenance and inspection program and the Federal Railroad Administration’s inadequate oversight of the application of federal track safety standards. Contributing to the consequences of this accident was the continued use of US Department of Transportation Specification-111 tank cars.