Railroad Officials: Alma train cars were old and outdated, leake - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

COPY-Railroad Officials: Alma train cars were old and outdated, leaked ethanol into National Wildlife Refuge


Six days after 32 train cars derailed and ended up in the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Alma, Wisconsin, federal investigators are still working in full force.

On Thursday, U.S. fish and Wildlife Service managers told us the spill area is a National Wildlife Refuge for waterfowl; a refuge that now has up to 20,000 gallons of denatured alcohol mixed into it.

Also on Thursday, the Federal Railway Administration revealed these train cars were old and being phased out of use.

Thursday, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin met first with local first responders and federal railway investigators to ask questions about the response to the derailment.

Turns out, the training paid off. Half a dozen Alma firefighters had recently trained with BNSF for this type of incident.

"First responders were quick to respond, were excellent, knew what they might be dealing with, got quick information about what they were dealing with,” said Sarah Feinberg, the Federal Railroad Administrator.

What they were dealing with was a type of ethanol that also contained gasoline and petroleum. As much as 20,000 gallons poured into the backwaters of the Mississippi.

"Ethanol is miscible with water, so it mixes, so it's a little tougher to clean up. You can't see it. Typically when you see it, you'll see dead wildlife,” said Andrew Maguire of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So far, they say there's no sign of anything dead, but they're monitoring closely.

"We can actually real-time monitor those dissolved oxygen levels, and that's what we've been doing,” Maguire said.

In the crash were a type of train car called DOT 111 cars that are older and weaker than newer models. The 111s were punctured when they toppled off the tracks. Railroad officials say they're being phased out, and it couldn't come soon enough.

"We are very anxious to get the 111s off the tracks, to have 117s and stronger cars carrying products like this, but this has been a great example of Wisconsin really responding beautifully to an incident like this,” said Feinberg.

BNSF tells us it could be several months before investigators determine what caused this train to derail. The Mayor today tells us since the crash, trains have been going a little slower through town.

Powered by Frankly