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Chemical leak contained in Union Pacific train derailment; now the investigation begins

Tempe train
Posted at 6:36 PM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 21:36:20-04

TEMPE, AZ — Union Pacific apologized Thursday for the disruption it caused after one of its trains that was hauling lumber, chemicals, and other materials derailed, and subsequently caught fire, while crossing a bridge over Tempe Town Lake the day prior, and said it intended to repair the bridge and to eventually resume its operations.

Valley Metro was also able to resume light rail operations on Thursday afternoon. The light rail does not use the same bridge nor rail that the Union Pacific train was on. That line is primarily used for cargo trains.

Crews were also able to successfully contain the chemical leak from one of the railcars that fell into a dry bed when part of the bridge collapsed, said Tempe Fire Chief Greg Ruiz during a Thursday afternoon press conference.

That tank was leaking a chemical called cyclohexane, which is a flammable chemical sometimes used to make nylon or used as a paint thinner. Chief Ruiz said Thursday that an estimated 500 gallons had leaked out of the railcar, which have the capability to hold between 25,000 - 35,000 gallons.

None of the chemicals are believed to have leaked into Tempe Town Lake, which remains closed until further notice, along with Tempe Beach Park.

Now, the investigation into what caused the train to derail and the bridge to collapse begins.

Lupe Valdez, senior director of public affairs at Union Pacific who overseas Arizona, Southern California, and Southern Nevada, said the bridge was last visually inspected on July 9 and passed that inspection. She said documents have been given to the federal officials, who are investigating the incident.

She said she was unable to comment further because she wanted to respect the integrity of the investigation. Rail lines are managed and maintained by the railroad company.

The derailment marked the second derailment involving a Union Pacific train in less than a month. On June 26, another train derailed in the same area, a spokesperson for Union Pacific confirmed to news outlets on Wednesday. Rail and bridge ties were damaged in that incident, but the line reopened two days later.

Preliminary results from the investigation could be released in a matter of months, but a comprehensive report would not be available for at least a year, officials said.