The National Transportation Safety Board has been investigating the derailment of a Union Pacific (UP) freight train and subsequent release of hazardous materials northwest of Eunice, Louisiana, on May 27, 2000. The accident occurred at 11:48 a.m. CDT on single line track owned by UP. State authorities have been in control of the scene and evacuated an area about 1 1/2 to 2 miles around the accident site that included approximately 1/4 of the population of Eunice, or about 2,500-3,000 residents. Recently the evacuation has been reduced to about 1/2 mile and most residents have been allowed to return to their homes.
There were no injuries or deaths reported at the time of the accident. However, there have been reports of approximately three minor injuries related to the subsequent release of the hazardous materials.
The Safety Board immediately launched a team of four investigators, including the investigator-in-charge and others with expertise in hazardous materials, track and train operations. Two investigators joined the team earlier this week, including another hazardous materials specialist and a railroad investigator who will look at signal operation. Although the Safety Board is in the early stages of its investigation, the following factual information has been developed:
The train consisted of three locomotives and 113 cars (87 loaded, 26 empties) and was traveling east from Freeport, Texas, to Livonia, Louisiana. Approximately 33 cars derailed, with the derailment occurring between the 10th and the 42nd cars. Of the derailed cars, approximately 14 contained hazardous materials, including toluene diisocyanate; acrylic acid; 1,2 dichloropropane; methyl chloride; molten phenol; dicyclopentadiene; pentanes; hexanes; and a corrosive liquid. Four empty cars contained residue of their previous cargo of 4, thiapentanal.
According to the preliminary event recorder information removed from the first two locomotives, the train was traveling at 40 mph in maximum throttle position and there was no braking prior to the train line-induced emergency brake application. The emergency brakes are designed to apply when the air brake pipe separates between any cars on the train. Investigators have found no indication of problems with train handling or the testable portion of the braking system. The event recorders are being shipped to the NTSB lab in Washington, D.C., for thorough review. Routine toxicology tests were performed on the crew (engineer and conductor) and the results have not yet been received. The track is Class 3, 115-lb. jointed rail with a maximum authorized speed of 40 mph.
Investigators flew over the accident area yesterday in a state police helicopter and noted that the rails end abruptly at the beginning of a large depression. The crater contains numerous tank cars and railcar parts strewn about in such a way that it is difficult to determine the initial point of derailment. A digital photographic survey is being conducted by UP of the scene with a helicopter using a Global Positioning Satellite grid, which will enable accurate measurements of the scene for future analysis. The team continues to document all the chemicals carried on the train, the shippers, and the hazardous characteristics of the products involved in the derailment. The tank cars that have been pulled away from the hot zone are being inspected.
Parties to the Safety Board's investigation include Union Pacific, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the state police.
The investigative team will prepare factual reports of its findings and place them in a public docket several months from now. A final report of probable cause usually takes 12 to 14 months. The Safety Board can issue safety recommendations related to its findings at any time during the course of the investigation.