Cleanup work was well under way early this evening in the aftermath of a Canadian Pacific Railroad derailment shortly after 2 p.m. today.
At least 11 cars left the tracks at and near the intersection of the Canadian Pacific mainline and the Union Pacific branch line on the southwestern part of the city. The derailed cars all contained petroleum, a deep concern for local safety officials.
Late in the afternoon the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was dispatched to the scene to assist with the efforts. Some leaking oil from the derailed cars was one of the immediate concerns.
The Jefferson County Hazardous Materials team was dressing and preparing to enter the immediate area where the spill was occurring.
Watertown Police and fire officials evacuated homes in the areas of Lafayette, Montgomery and West streets and in other areas nearby as well as a precautionary measure.
A large number of fire departments, special units and others were called to the scene and/or the fire department for staffing in the event other emergencies came up. In the afternoon the Hustisford Fire Department was staffing the Watertown Fire Department headquarters in the event other calls came to the department while the local staff was at the disaster.
Oil in the derailed cars was scheduled to be pumped out as a precautionary measure, any leakage was to be contained, and the cars then pushed aside for future pickup by repair crews.
A command post was quickly established at Emergency Towing and Service, 725 Bernard St., just a few hundred feet from the center of the derailment. It was staffed by police and fire department personnel.
Police Chief Tim Roets said “So far today we’ve avoided what could have been a major disaster. I’m hoping it’s a wakeup call for improving safety in the movement of these materials.”
Long trains of tanker cars filled with oil are regularly seen passing through Watertown. The trains are usually 100 or more cars long and all or nearly all of them contain oil which can be highly explosive in the event of an accident.
Railroad crews as well as emergency personnel from Watertown police and fire departments and surrounding areas were working through the night to make the area safe and also to open the main rail line. One railroad person said rail traffic might resume as early as Tuesday midday.
Not long before the derailment, an Amtrak train and a freight train passed through the area without incident or problems of any type. The westbound Amtrak train, heading from Chicago to Minneapolis and on to Seattle was stopped and other arrangements for affected passengers were being made.
Once all safety is secured, the railroads would begin the process of regaining service through that busy track. Over 30 trains a day pass through this area of Canadian Pacific tracks. That service will be restored as soon as possible and then the intersection with the Union Pacific branch line between Clyman Junction and Fort Atkinson would be restored by reinstalling the diamond intersection in ensuing days.
More detailed information on the derailment will be available in Monday’s Daily Times and on the newspaper’s website.