Union Pacific Freight Car Carrying Molten Sulfur Derails in Louisiana

March 9, 2009

Louisiana State Police have lifted a shelter-in-place order resulting from the derailing of a freight train car carrying molten sulfur near Placquemine, La., on Mar. 7. The derailed freight car sprang a leak and dribbled stinking orange-and-yellow goop into Bayou Plaquemine and prompted evacuation of more than 100 people from a nearby motel.

On Sunday evening, the LSP said the molten sulfur tank had been removed but LA 1 at the bridge in Plaquemine will remain a two-way road on the northbound side. Southbound side will remain closed on the bridge.

Nobody was hurt when the train derailed. When all of the empty cars had been moved or righted, a track crew discovered that the trestle was damaged and would have to be fixed before the loaded car could be moved. The LSP reported that the trestle has now been repaired.

The five cars that derailed were toward the end of a 67-car train that was going 16 mph at the time of the accident and included four of the 12 empty cars, Union Pacific Corp. spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said.

She said Union Pacific railroad and the Federal Railroad Administration are investigating.

An automatic phone system notified 711 families in the area to stay in their houses and Louisiana Highway 1 was closed in the area after the 5 a.m. derailment. By 8 p.m., residents were advised that it was safe to go outside their homes, and officials were preparing to re-open the northbound side of Highway 1 for traffic in both directions, Graham said.

More than 100 guests, most in town for a youth baseball tournament, were evacuated from a nearby Best Western motel, and most were moved to another motel about 15 miles away, said Lt. Doug Cain, a Louisiana State Police spokesman.

None of the train cars fell into the bayou just inside Iberville Parish; the only one carrying cargo was the leaking car, which was upright on the bridge, Cain said. He said much of the sulfur – the chemical which gives rotten eggs their stink – was solidifying on the bridge and bank; any of it that hit the water would solidify more rapidly and fall to the bottom.

Molten sulfur, used to make soap and shampoo, is hot when loaded, Espinoza said. “It cools as it’s transported, and turns into a solid when it comes into contact with the air,” she said. “We poured water on it to speed up the cooling.”

She said the sulfur car was 51st in line.

Cain said two empty cars just in front of the sulfur car tumbled onto the bank, and two just behind it fell on the railroad bridge.

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