Crews clear canyon train wreck

Ryan Graff
Special to the Post Independent
Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox

GLENWOOD CANYON” Union Pacific started clearing the wreckage of a derailed coal train Monday.

Forty-five coal cars and two locomotives derailed on the south side of the Colorado River between No Name and Grizzly Creek at noon on Sunday.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Dave Mantlo of the derailment, a Union Pacific conductor who worked overnight Sunday to help clear the wreckage.

The 105-car train was coming from a coal mine near Delta and headed to East St. Louis, Ill., said Union Pacific spokesperson John Bromley.

The cause of the wreck is under investigation, said Bromley.

In general, a problem with the track, train, or operation of the train can cause a train to derail, said Bromley.

Though the cause of the wreck is under investigation, Mantlo said 50 or 60 spikes, which hold the track in place, had broken.

If spikes break, the rail can tip over as the train passes and cause a derailment, said Mantlo.

The amount of spilled coal was unknown, but a single car can hold 110 tons of coal, said Bromley. Five of the 45 derailed cars tipped completely over on their sides, but none had completely lost their load.

Coal covered the riverbank, but didn’t look to have reached the river.

At 2:30 p.m. Monday, one of the locomotives had been re-railed, and two of the wrecked coal cars had been dragged off the track.

“If it was flat ground, it would only take 10 to 12 hours to get the track cleared,” said Jeremy Brown of North Platte, Neb., whose crew was brought in to help clear the track.

The proximity of the canyon walls and river will make clearing the wrecked cars more difficult, said Brown.

There is no timeline for when the rail line will open again, said Bromley.

Mantlo said he thought the track would open by Wednesday evening.

On Monday morning, Union Pacific rail crews brought derricks and side-boom bulldozers into the canyon by rail from both the east and west sides.

Side-booms and derricks are used to lift the cars back onto the rail.

If the cars are too badly damaged to be re-railed, they may be loaded onto other cars and brought out of the canyon, said Bromley. Cars that can’t be fit onto other trains can be cut up into scrap on site before being taken out of the canyon, he said.

To help repair the track, trains brought prefabricated sections of track into the canyon Monday. The straight, pre-fabricated sections are bent into the correct shape on site, said Brown.

Once the track is cleared and repaired, a separate contractor will clean up the coal and take it to a landfill, said Bromley.

Until the rail is fixed, no other trains can travel through the canyon. All Union Pacific trains are being held at various locations around the region, said Bromley.

Amtrak, which also uses the line through Glenwood Canyon, is busing its Glenwood Springs passengers to their destinations (see story below).

Union Pacific doesn’t have any cost estimate for the wrecked cars, coal, or what it will cost to clean them up, but is responsible for any coal it loses.

“If we wreck it, we buy it,” he said.

Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 534

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