Puget Sound &Pacific railroad has promised aggressive action to find out what caused the third in a string of train derailments, the latest one near Montesano Thursday. An official called the three incidents within 16 days “highly unusual and unacceptable.”
Failed ties were found to be the cause of the first two derailments, and the railroad has found the issue in eight to 10 other areas of the track. Trains will not run until the ties are repaired, said Michael Williams of Genesee &Wyoming, PSAP’s parent company. No estimate on repair time was available Friday afternoon.
Eleven cars loaded with grain came off the track near Devonshire Road and Central Park Drive, not far from Friends Landing along the Chehalis River Thursday afternoon.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Williams said Thursday of the derailments. “All of the senior management of the Pacific region is on the way, so we’ll get to the bottom of whatever is going on.”
The train was moving at 10 mph, Williams said. Repairs to the track are expected to be completed by Saturday.
With the number of recent derailments, some have questioned whether foul play might have been involved given the heated debate over the proposal to ship crude oil to three tank farms on Grays Harbor. Williams said the railroad does not suspect anything of the kind.
“We don’t suspect any vandalism,” he said.
A “geometry car” was sent down the track Wednesday, and data on the shape of the rails themselves are currently being analyzed. The failing ties were found through visual inspection of a larger area of track.
A train passing in front of Walmart in Aberdeen derailed May 9 at 6 mph, leaving seven cars blocking an entrance to the store and knocking the track out of commission until late Thursday afternoon, Williams said.
Before that, five grain cars came off the tracks at 5 mph at South Washington Street just south of State Street in Aberdeen April 29.
“This series of minor derailments is a highly unusual, unacceptable occurrence and subject to a rigorous investigation,” Williams said Friday. “The first two derailments were caused by localized failure of railroad ties that were saturated with moisture from recent heavy rains. Other locations experiencing this issue have been identified and are being corrected prior to receiving another train. The cause of yesterday’s derailment is still being determined.”
“Safety is always our first priority, and PSAP will not run another train while we examine the recent track inspection results,” PSAP president Joel Haka said in a statement Friday. “Any issues will be addressed prior to resuming service on the affected portion of the line.”
Genesee &Wyoming acquired PSAP 16 months ago, and since that time, Williams notes, PSAP has had $4.3 million in track upgrades.
Track is inspected at least once per week, and at the second derailment, the railroad pledged to increase that frequency.
“This string of low-speed derailments is not acceptable, and we fully recognize the need to resume the safe, efficient freight service on which our customers depend,” Haka said.