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Cleanup progresses at Plainfield train derailment site

19 rail cars derail in Plainfield, three leak crude oil

PLAINFIELD – Officials working to contain and clean up about 40,000 gallons of spilled Canadian crude oil from a wooded area near Route 59 and 143rd Street say they expect to have the rest of the derailed rail cars cleared away by Sunday.

Plainfield Deputy Fire Chief Jon Stratton said most of the cars had been removed from the site as of Saturday afternoon. Cleaning up the spilled crude oil will take longer than removing the cars, however.

“This is a very slow, meticulous process,” Stratton said. “It takes a lot of time.”

Local authorities on Saturday issued a call for an investigation by federal authorities into the derailment, which has polluted the environment and could have been much worse had any of the spilled oil burst into flame.

The rail crash occurred around 6:30 p.m. Friday. Environmental Protection Agency representative Mike Beslow estimated that about one and a half train cars’ worth of oil spilled. Each of the 115 tanker cars on the train that crashed can carry 30,000 gallons of crude.

“I am extremely grateful that there have been no injuries reported from this accident so far, but we are facing a dangerous situation that requires a massive cleanup effort,” said Will County Board member Gretchen Fritz, R-Plainfield. “We can’t afford to have something happen like this and put our residents at risk.”

Plainfield resident and former Village Board member Jim Racich said he’s had concerns about possible train mishaps in the past and worries that a worse catastrophe could happen.

“I don’t think trains like that should ride through Plainfield,” Racich said.

Train derailments in recent years nationwide have proven to be worse than Friday’s. In 2016, a Union Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge near Mosier, which sparked a large fire. In 2015, 21 cars of a 105-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe train carrying oil from North Dakota derailed three miles outside Galena, causing two to burst into flame.

But Plainfield Mayor Michael Collins said that although mishaps are cause for concern, as a lifelong resident he never has seen a derailment happen
in the village. He agreed that the derailment could not have happened in a better place – away from any residential areas. Collins also praised the response and preparedness from the various emergency service departments working on the scene.

“The fire department and police department have gone through a series of training for something like this,” he said.

Stratton said that a hazard is always possible with materials carried by rail through the village. He said a fire or explosion could happen with an ignition source such as power lines or even metal striking metal.

“It could have happened last night,” Stratton said. “Absolutely.”

However, there were no fires or injuries in the derailment, authorities said.

“We believe that, by all standards, that there is no measurable threat to the community,” Plainfield Police Chief John Konopek said.

REASON FOR CRASH UNCLEAR

Authorities said they does not know how the train derailed or how long it will take to clean up the cars, but it would take “quite a bit of time” to get it contained and cleaned up.

It will be up to federal regulators from the Federal Railroad Administration to determine the cause of the crash, with Environmental Protection Agency officials tasked with assessing the damage.

The derailment caused 19 cars in the 115-car train to leave the tracks. Three of the cars were punctured, causing them to spill their contents, said Jim Kvedaras from U.S. Government Affairs at CN Transportation Services.

The holes in the train cars were the size of a walnut and a wrist, Kvedaras said. The third car was driven into the ground but also appeared be leaking. The derailment started at the 75th car of the train, he said.

Foam was used near the derailment site to mitigate the damage caused by the oil.

The foam is meant to blanket the area where the oil was spilled as well as to take away any ignition source that could lead to a fire or explosion. There was concern of the oil leaking into the nearby DuPage River, but Fisher said on Friday that the oil effectively was kept from reaching the river.

“All efforts are being made right now to make sure that continues,” Fisher said.

Fisher also said businesses within a 1,000-foot radius of the spill had been evacuated, but not homes.

The derailment occurred on CN railroad tracks between Route 59 and 143rd Street.

Several area businesses closed on Friday and some remained closed on Saturday, although no evacuation was ordered. Community Christian Church at 24035 Riverwalk Court  in Plainfield is expected to reopen on Sunday.

“This is going to have a large impact on traffic and for people’s ability to get around town,” Fisher said.

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