WASHBURN — One man was killed and another injured in a train derailment along an embankment south of Washburn on Thursday.
The train derailed about 11:46 a.m., and the man’s body was recovered about 4:30 p.m. The injured worker was treated and released at a Bismarck hospital.
“The embankment gave way and two engines plunged into the hole,” said Jeff Wood, vice president of Dakota Missouri Valley & Western Railroad, on Thursday evening. He said that the 150 yards of the track “had never been an issue before.” He said the problem may have been caused by the way the frost was coming out and the way the moisture was moving along the frost line.
“This has been a sad day for the company. We haven’t lost a life in the 20 years we’ve operated it,” Wood said, adding that the man who died has worked with the company for six years.
He estimated it could be six to 10 days before the line begins operating again.
“We need to get the two locomotives out of the hole and rebuild the grade back,” Wood said. He said crews are assessing the site to see how to best make repairs.
The survivor reportedly remained inside the train when the bank collapsed but was able to get out of the engine on his own. It is believed the man who died attempted to jump from the lead engine when the ground began to collapse.
No ages or names of the men have been released.
Two of the train’s engines fell to a lower bank of Turtle Creek, and three other engines were hovering over them. Crews backed up the three higher engines around 2:30 p.m. using two trains brought from Bismarck.
Rescue workers began assessing the two lower engines when the three other engines and the cars were cleared. Emergency personnel began digging beneath the lead engine to search it with picks and shovels. Shortly after 4:30 p.m., crews removed the victim.
Wood said about 49 cars were attached to the engines. About 38 were loaded with agriculture products.
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The cars, which did not derail, did not contain hazardous material, and the only material that authorities were concerned about was fuel.
“I heard an unusual loud bang and it really shook the house. I thought it was just two cars connecting,” said Jackie Olson, who lives right above where the train derailed. “A man came to the door and I called 911.”
Olson said the injured engineer was the man at the door. She said he was coherent despite his injuries.
The railroad goes over Turtle Creek near the golf course, about 2½ miles south of Washburn. The creek immediately flows into the Missouri River.
Washburn Fire Chief Clayton Verke said that when they arrived, “One engine was still on the tracks, just hanging. Dirt moved away beneath it.”
State Health Department officials were on the scene to prevent diesel and lubrication oil from leaking into Turtle Creek and the Missouri River. No fuel had contaminated the creek or river.
“At least one is leaking fuel,” said Chris Roberts of the State Health Department Division of Water Quality. “What we will be doing is putting containment plumes with a skirt on it across the mouth of the creek, across the sandbar to make sure it is contained if and when the fuel starts seeping about.”
Late Thursday, that work was being done as a precaution. The accident remains under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The Dakota Missouri Valley & Western Railroad operates approximately 522 miles of track in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.
It operates tracks between Oakes to Washburn, Flaxton to Whitetail, Mont., Washburn to Max, McKenzie to Moffit, Oakes to Hankinson, and Geneseo Junction to Aberdeen, S.D. The company maintains headquarters in Bismarck and has field offices in Crosby, Wishek, Oakes and Britton, S.D.
The Highway Patrol, Washburn and Wilton fire departments, and McLean County Sheriff’s Department were involved in the rescue efforts.