After three train derailments between Montesano and Aberdeen in slightly more than two weeks, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration says the agency will start an investigation.
Mike England, the public affairs specialist for the agency responsible for railroad safety, said Friday that the “occurrence of three incidents on the same rail line operated by the same carrier merits an investigation.”
“Our investigation will identify the root causes of the accidents and we will take all appropriate enforcement actions,” England wrote in an email. “In addition, we will conduct a thorough examination of the track owned by Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad in the Montesano area to ensure the track integrity is sound and to determine if further compliance or enforcement actions are warranted.”
Congressman Derek Kilmer and his staff were in contact with the Federal Railroad Administration for much of Friday in the wake of the derailment Thursday outside Montesano.
“Safety must be a top priority for trains transporting freight through our region,” Kilmer said. “When trains are going off the tracks it’s important to find out why and make sure neighborhoods and residents are safe. It is my understanding that a federal investigation will take place looking into recent derailments in Grays Harbor. This series of incidents has everyone concerned and I believe that we need to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”
Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad has been lauding its track record of safety and inspections of infrastructure for years.
These past three derailments, with two in Aberdeen in 11 days and this third one Thursday, have brought about an acute awareness of just what the infrastructure may be like.
A review of incident reports on file with the Federal Railroad Administration show that Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad had a derailment just six months ago outside McCleary. The derailment on Dec. 23, 2013, at about 2:30 in the morning appears to not have gotten much media attention around the holidays.
A one-page incident report filed with the Federal Railroad Administration notes that three cars came off the rails between McCleary and Shelton. The cause “was determined to be regulator joints and worn rails,” according to the incident report.
The train was going 17 mph and there were no injuries at the time. There were 19 loaded freight cars and three empty ones. About $173,392 in damage was caused in equipment and there was another $42,500 in track and structure damage.
Before that, Puget Sound & Pacific went just shy of four years in Grays Harbor County without a reported derailment to the Federal Railroad Administration.
An incident report notes there was a derailment on Jan. 29, 2010, outside Aberdeen. The derailment happened in the day time, just past noon. The incident report states, “The engineer felt a tug, looked back and saw cars off the rail and immediately put the train in emergency.”
No cause is given for that derailment. The incident report says it cost just $15,000 in equipment damage and $3,600 in track and structure damage. Five cars out of the 33-car freight train came off the rails when it was moving at 7 mph.
The last time Puget Sound & Pacific posted a derailment in Lewis County, where the short rail also operates, was in 2011. In fact, Lewis County saw four derailments that year. At one point, three stack cars from Puget Sound & Pacific derailed. The others involved other railroads, including a hazardous materials car that derailed. Nothing was spilled.
The Sightline Institute in Seattle took an in-depth look at derailments reported to the Federal Railroad Administration on May 13. Between South Dakota and the Northwest, there were 276 derailments reported between 2011 and 2013.
“In all, we mapped 276 reported derailments in the region,” a blog posting from the organization notes. “Over the 31-month period we tracked, the region saw an average of 8.9 derailments of freight trains each month — roughly one every three-and-a-half days. Many of these derailments were relatively low-stakes affairs in switching yards or at slow speeds, but others were high profile and worrisome. For example, in the summer of 2012, a coal train derailed near the eastern Washington town of Mesa, spilling 31 carloads of coal. And in December 2013, an oil train derailed and exploded into a towering inferno near Casselton, North Dakota.”