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Massive North Idaho derailment expected to block U.S. 95 lanes for two weeks

Train derails next to North Idaho highway

BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said a grain train’s rail cars derailed around 7 a.m. May 1 just outside of Cocolalla, Idaho. Five rail cars tipped over – causing some spillage of corn.
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BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said a grain train’s rail cars derailed around 7 a.m. May 1 just outside of Cocolalla, Idaho. Five rail cars tipped over – causing some spillage of corn.

Crews are working to remove around 25 derailed rail cars from the highway about 10 miles north of Athol, closing both southbound lanes, the Idaho Transportation Department reports.

Two-way traffic is continuing on that stretch of U.S. 95, using the northbound lanes, ITD said. ITD posted an aerial video of the scene Wednesday and asked drivers to watch out for animals approaching the wreck to eat the corn spilled by the derailment.

Three locomotives were hauling 110 train cars from St. Cloud, Minn., to Kalama, Wash, when about 25 cars in the middle went off the tracks and another five tipped onto their sides around 6 a.m. Monday, BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said.

“We’re assessing the damage, but a large majority of them will be scrapped on site over the next three-week period,” he told the Coeur d’Alene Press. He said cars would be shoved to the side to reopen that section of track, which sees 60 trains per day, including the Amtrak route that links Chicago to Seattle with stopovers in Sandpoint.

No injuries or hazardous conditions were reported, but the derailment near Lake Cocolalla stoked concerns about the safety of the tracks at a time when BNSF is moving forward with plans to build a second rail bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, the Spokesman-Review reports. Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rogstad, who opposes that project, told the newspaper that if the train that derailed Monday was carrying toxic fuel instead of corn, the effect on the environment “would have been absolutely devastating.”

“If we can’t ensure that our tracks are safe, it doesn’t make sense to keep building tracks, particularly over our waterways,” Rogstad told the Spokesman-Review.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation. Melonas said Monday that speed was not an issue in the crash.

Front-end loaders worked to scoop up massive mounds of spilled corn, and railroad track ballast rock also spilled onto the roadway, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported.

ITD engineers have been unable to determine the extent of roadway damage the derailment caused, according to an agency news release.

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