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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Broken wheel blamed for train derailment

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Broken wheel blamed for train derailment

Union Pacific spokesman says the freight car’s wheels were inspected as scheduled, but the inspections did not reveal the crack in the wheel

A crack in the wheel of a freight car has been blamed for a May 29 train derailment that stalled rail traffic throughout the region for one day and has continued to impede vehicle travel along Highway 30 just south of Haines as cleanup continues.

Tom Lange, Union Pacific spokesman, said Tuesday from his Omaha, Neb., office that the cracked wheel on the 16th car from the rear of the train apparently went undetected even though all inspections had been conducted on schedule.

“There are thousands of miles of track and thousands of wheels and thousands of cars,” he said. “They are inspected on a regular basis. Sometimes if a crack is started inside the wheel, it can’t be detected.”

Lange said the cost of the derailment and subsequent cleanup, which is winding down this week, will not be determined for at least a month.

Railroad crews have been working at the site for the past week and a half to repair the 500 feet of track that was torn up when 15 cars of the 136-car train jumped the tracks. The derailment happened at 2:26 a.m. May 29 and all train traffic along the line was held until the track was reopened at 3:30 a.m. May 30.

The derailed cars included seven carrying lumber products, four loaded with the coal by-product coke and four that were empty. One empty tanker contained phosphoric acid residue, which was removed by a hazardous materials team. No hazardous materials were spilled and no one was injured in the derailment.

The southbound lane of Highway 30 has been closed intermittently and flaggers have directed one-way traffic at the cleanup site.

Lights were placed along the highway and flaggers directed travelers throughout the night until train traffic was restored May 29-30. About 25 vehicles were parked on the shoulder of the highway as the wreckage was cleared from the tracks and new rails with ties attached were brought in to repair the line.

Initially 150 people, including Union Pacific employees from throughout the region and from Omaha and contract workers, were deployed to the site. Rick Franklin Corp. from Lebanon is conducting the salvage operation with help from the construction firm of Mike Becker General Contractor in La Grande. Traffic control is being provided by workers from Certified Personnel Service Agency in La Grande.

Just one large roll of paper board remained along the highway side of the track as cleanup continued Monday.

Rick Franklin Corp. is continuing restoration work to the surrounding property, which was damaged by the derailment, including state and railroad right of way and fencing and pasture belonging to Lorna Board.

“Union Pacific Railroad is very proactive in making sure that we take care of property owners when something happens and we have to disrupt their activities,” Lange said.

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