Railroad Says Broken Wheel Likely Caused Kansas Derailment

March 15, 2023

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — Union Pacific officials believe that a broken wheel likely caused this weekend’s derailment that spilled denatured alcohol inside a Kansas refinery.

Railroad spokeswoman Kristen South said crews continued to clean up the site of the derailment inside the CHS refinery in McPherson on Monday – one day after 13 cars came off the tracks.

Two of the derailed cars leaked alcohol into a ditch after the Sunday morning crash. But South said the McPherson fire department and staff at the refinery were able to quickly contain the spill.

“There is no reason to have cause for concern,” McPherson Fire Chief TJ Wyssmann said. “The product did get into a tributary and we quickly, with some assistance, got the tributary (contained) … So we stopped that product from getting into Wolf Creek or further from the actual site of the incident.”

By Monday evening, five of the 13 cars that derailed had been cleared from the site, and the railroad’s hazardous materials team worked to clean up the alcohol.

South said Union Pacific will report what it found about the broken wheel to the Federal Railroad Administration. She said none of the trackside detectors in the area near the derailment identified any problems beforehand.

Railroad safety has been in the spotlight ever since last month’s fiery derailment outside East Palestine, Ohio. The major freight railroads have announced a number of steps they are taking to strengthen the network of detectors alongside tracks they use to spot mechanical problems before they can cause a derailment. But federal regulators have said the railroads need to do more than they have announced.

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