Honkin' Mad

How fast was a train going before 25 ethanol tanker cars derailed in Fort Worth?

A train that derailed April 24 in south Fort Worth causing a massive fire fueled by ethanol spilled from three tanker cars was traveling only 26 mph when it came across railroad tracks covered in water, according to a preliminary NTSB report.

The speed limit is 30 mph for trains using those railroad tracks, which is in a somewhat-secluded residential and industrial area southeast of Interstate 35W and East Berry Street.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which expects to update the report in the coming months as its investigation continues, is looking at how storm water drainage from nearby Echo Lake may have contributed to the flooding conditions in the railroad right-of-way. Also, the NTSB will explore whether more can be done to get timely information to train crews during severe weather, and whether the crew knew about water on the tracks before they drove the train through the area.

The Dallas-Fort Worth region was getting pounded by intense rainfall at the time of the derailment. Up to two inches of rain per hour were falling in the vicinity of south Fort Worth at the time of the crash, which caused a fiery inferno and led to the deaths of three horses in a barn on an adjacent property.

“Safety issues addressed in the investigation will include effective weather alert communications, policies and rules, and inspection and maintenance of storm water drainage from lakes,” the report states.

The train consisted of three locomotives, two buffer cars and 96 tanker cars. In all, 25 tanker cars derailed, including three cars that were punctured and leaked 74,000 gallons of ethanol, according to the report. Much of the fuel additive burned up, although some of it flowed into a nearby tributary of the Trinity River, the report states.

The investigation also gives NTSB, which for years has called on railroads to replace old tanker cars with newer, more durable models, a chance to evaluate how different types of hazardous materials cars performed side by side in a derailment.

Of the three tanker cars that spilled their ethanol, one was an older tanker car known as a DOT-111 and two others were DOT-117Rs — older tanker cars that had been retrofitted with extra protections to prevent spillages.

The train was also carrying 17 newer tanker cars known as 117Js, but none of those was punctured, according to the preliminary report released this week.

The cars that derailed were in positions 17 through 41 of the 96-car train, according to the report.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.