Freight Train Derails in Southwestern Wisconsin

A BNSF freight train derailed on Thursday in southwestern Wisconsin, injuring four crew members and sending two containers into the Mississippi River but causing no environmental damage, officials said.

BNSF said in a statement that the train derailed at about 12:15 p.m. local time near the village of De Soto, Wis., which hugs the Mississippi River, near the border of Iowa and Minnesota.

Two of the three locomotives and an unknown number of cars carrying “freight of all kinds” were involved, the statement said. Two containers went into the Mississippi River, but they did not contain hazardous materials, the statement said.

Some of the containers that derailed on the shore contained paint, lithium-ion batteries and oxygen, said Jim Hackett, Crawford County’s emergency management director, at a news conference Thursday night. The materials did not pose a hazard to the public because they remained on land, he said.

Four people, all crew members, were transported to the hospital for medical evaluation with unknown injuries. The cause of the derailment was still under investigation as of Thursday evening.

A section of State Highway 35 was closed, and the officials said they did not have a prediction of when the road would reopen, Mr. Hackett said.

“Bear with us as we clean this up,” he said.

Crews secured the two cars to the riverbank so that they would not continue traveling south, Mr. Hackett said.

Rock is being brought to the scene from nearby quarries to build a platform to have access to remove the train, Chris Mussatti, the De Soto fire chief, said. Crews will work through the night.

“It’s going to be a major undertaking,” he said at the news conference.

The oxygen cylinders on the train could pose an explosive threat, Chief Mussatti said, but officials were not concerned about this occurrence on Thursday night.

Neither of the containers that fell into the water contained lithium-ion batteries, which are potentially explosive when they interact with water, said Brandon Larson, director of Vernon County Emergency Management and the director of the county’s hazmat team.

The hazmat team was on-site to control and clean fuel leaks on the riverbank as well as to monitor the batteries, he said. Diesel fuel from the locomotives did not pose a threat to the public, officials said.

Marc Myhre, a Crawford County emergency management official, told reporters on the scene that about 20 cars appeared to have derailed and that two appeared to have ended up in the river. He said BNSF, which operates a large freight railroad network across North America, was working to remove the cars from the water.

“It was reported to us that there were hazardous materials on the train itself,” Mr. Myhre said. “But it’s not believed to be a concern to the public or the responders at this time, as those cars were contained.”

The Mississippi River has been flooding communities in several states in the Upper Midwest, including Crawford County, according to the National Weather Service. Thomas G. Cornford, the chairman of the Crawford County board, said that he had declared a state of emergency earlier this month because of the rising floodwaters.

Concerns about train derailments have been heightened since a freight train carrying more than 100,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, in February.

Much of the train’s vinyl chloride freight was incinerated by emergency responders to avert a wider explosion. That train was operated by Norfolk Southern, an Atlanta-based railway company that operates in the eastern United States.

Last month, BNSF trains derailed in Minnesota and Arizona; neither caused any injuries or environmental damage. A freight train carrying corn syrup derailed near the town of Topock, Ariz., on March 15.

On March 30, 22 BNSF train cars carrying mixed freight, including ethanol and corn syrup, derailed near Raymond, Minn, about 100 miles west of Minneapolis. The accident forced local residents to evacuate, the company’s website said.

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