Wendover Canyon derailment injures two; locomotives reach North Platte River

Three BNSF locomotives lie near the edge of the North Platte River in Wendover Canyon following a derailment around 2 p.m. Monday. (Photo courtesy Wyoming Department Environmental Quality)

GUERNSEY—Two Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad employees escaped serious injury following a collision between two loaded coal trains in Wendover Canyon northwest of Guernsey Monday afternoon.   Platte County Emergency Management Coordinator Terry Stevenson said the call came in at 2:10 p.m.  Emergency responders were not able to access the scene and the injured railroaders were brought out by a BNSF vehicle that can operate on both rails and roads.  They were transported to Platte County Memorial Hospital in Wheatland where they were treated and released.  Names of the employees have not been released. 

The accident was in a very rugged area directly along the south side of the North Platte River that is difficult to access other than by rail.  The derailment location is approximately two miles by rail upriver from the Y junction at Wendover.   

The accident occurred when one train that was stopped was rear-ended by another train that was following and failed to stop. 

As a result, three locomotives and  four coal cars derailed between the tracks and the river.  Two locomotives from the moving train ended up at the river’s edge; a locomotive that was the last car in the stopped train ended up partially resting in the river.

According to DEQ official Joe Hunter, up to as much as  6,000 gallons of diesel fuel and an amount of motor oil spilled from the locomotives but it is unknown exactly how much.  Hunter told the Casper Star-Tribune he didn’t have a full idea of how much actually reached the river’s flow, but that it was significant.  Stevenson said BNSF asked the Bureau of Reclamation to  drop the water levels as much as possible by closing off the river feed at Glendo Dam to help minimize the spread downstream.  Work began immediately by BNSF to contain the spill by  placing booms, devices that float and collect oil spillage downriver.  Hunter said the amount of ice in the river and the lower river flow has helped the spill from spreading. 

BNSF crews were on the scene by Monday evening to begin the cleanup and continued into Tuesday.  The diesel spillage could be completed by the end of the week according to Hunter.  Because of the rugged terrain, clean-up is a challenge as the canyon walls along the track run as high as 400 feet over several miles on both sides of the river. 

Amy McBeth, Public Information Officer for the railroad, told the Star-Tribune they hope to have the line open by Wednesday but due to the rugged locale, an exact time is difficult to determine.

An investigation to determine the cause of the accident is underway and typically involves both the railroad and the National Transportation Safety Board.                     


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