NTSB Reveals Probable Cause of Tempe Town Lake Train Derailment and Bridge Collapse

Federal investigators have released a new report into the cause of a 2020 train derailment in Tempe.

The derailment, which involved 12 cars, caused the collapse of a bridge over Tempe Town Lake. No one was injured as a result of the incident.

According to City of Tempe websitethe railroad bridge, officially called the Salt River Union Pacific Bridge, was built in 1912. 1912 was the same year Arizona became a state.

The incident cost the railroad more than $10 million

According to the latest investigation report released by the National Transportation Safety Board in June 2022, a broken rail was the probable cause of the incident, citing that the wheels of two rail cars showed damage, indicating that they had passed over a broken track. In addition, a damaged rail was discovered.

There were 97 cars on the train and 47 cars passed before the rail broke under the 48th car.

In total, Union Pacific, which operates the railroad and the bridge, spent $11 million to build and repair the bridge and its surroundings. We contacted Union Pacific about the findings, and a company representative said they were still reviewing the report and could not comment immediately.

A former Tempe resident speaks about the incident

Elizabeth Dietchman lived near Tempe Town Lake in 2020 and witnessed the fiery aftermath of the derailment and bridge collapse.

“I was on the floor crying,” Dietchman said. “It was so impactful to me. I really didn’t feel safe at home anymore.”

The incident prompted Dietchman to make a major life change.

“Living near a situation where I could have been injured or killed, I was not comfortable with how local authorities handled the situation, so I no longer live in Tempe,” Dietchman said. .

The railway bridge was the scene of a previous derailment incident

It wasn’t the first train derailment on the bridge for the summer of 2020.

According to Phoenix Fire Department officials at the time, crews responded to a partial derailment on the same bridge on June 26 after some of the ties caught fire.

Union Pacific officials said the bridge was damaged and was later repaired. It would have taken two days to repair and reopen the bridge. They also said the bridge received its annual inspection on July 9. They won’t release what the inspection found, instead saying it’s in the hands of the NTSB.

Elizabeth Dietchman, who lived in the area at the time, took photos of the scene a month before the incident, showing crews working on the bridge after the 1st derailment.

“I also recorded the security guard saying it wasn’t big news,” Dietchman said. “Then a month later, it was big news.”

The incident sparked a massive fire

A bridge over Tempe Town Lake caught fire and partially collapsed after a train derailed on the morning of July 29.

Tempe Fire Department officials said the derailment happened around 6:09 a.m. and involved a Union Pacific train. Fire crews from several fire agencies responded to the scene.

At one point, firefighters said the blaze had been designated as a four alarm, which Tempe Fire officials say represents a major event in the firefighting world.

Union Pacific spokesman Tim McMahan said none of the train’s crew were injured, but there was a report of someone suffering from inhalation. smoke. McMahan also says eight to ten cars caught fire.

Some cars carried flammable liquids

Some of the train cars were carrying timber and some were tank cars, and three tank cars fell into the yard below. Tempe Fire officials said some of the cars contained cyclohexanone, with the third containing rubber material.

Cyclohexanone is a flammable, colorless oily liquid, and nearly 95% of its manufacture is used to make nylon, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Firefighters say the smoke from the fire is toxic and there is a leak of cyclohexanone. The leaked contents are wrong in Tempe Town Lake, according to firefighters, and the cause of the derailment is being investigated.

The leak was contained and cleaned up on July 30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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