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Workers busy at derailment site near Lake Park

Working all night Wednesday and on into Thursday, BNSF railway workers and private contractors swarmed over the site of a freight train derailment near Lake Park, removing or cutting up damaged cars and shipping containers and laying new track.

The derailment Wednesday afternoon involved 10 large intermodal railroad cars carrying 40 or more metal shipping containers.

The railcars that ended up as a jumbled mess about a mile west of Lake Park were No. 13 through No. 22, "about the middle third," of a train that included 31 cars and four locomotives, said BNSF spokesman Steve Forsberg of Kansas City. The train was headed from Chicago to Seattle. It went into emergency braking mode at the time of the derailment, he said.

One line of the two-track rail corridor was expected to be operating again by late Thursday afternoon, and the other by Friday evening, Forsberg said Thursday.

The derailment involved railcars carrying shipping containers, some of which held 55-gallon drums of potentially hazardous materials, including ammonium nitrate, sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid.

By about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, hazardous materials experts from Fargo-Moorhead and St. Paul had determined that nothing was leaking and the chemicals weren't mixing and reacting, which was a major concern of local law enforcement and firefighters. Several nearby families that had been evacuated were allowed to return to their homes.

"They got into all the railcar containers and removed all haz-mat," said Lake Park Fire Chief Doug Larson. The local firefighters and haz-mat officials were later released from duty.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation by BNSF. As with all railroad accidents resulting in damages over $7,000, the results of the investigation will be posted on the Federal Railroad Administration Web site, a process that usually takes about two months, Forsberg said.

No one was injured in the accident. All railroad crew on freight trains are in the locomotives up front, he said.

Much of the heavy-lifting in the derailment cleanup was being done by a private contractor, "the equivalent of a railroad wrecker service," Forsberg said, that provides emergency services to railway companies around the country.

"Rail cars with only minor damage are placed back on the rails and taken in for repairs," Forsberg added. Seriously damaged cars are typically cut up and hauled away to be sold as scrap metal.

"The first call we always place following a derailment ... is to the local emergency responder -- the 911 number in that district," Forsberg said. "We operate by the book in any kind of incident like this, the first responders are the first to evaluate if there are any leaks."

The railroad also has its own hazardous materials team that coordinates its activities well with government haz-mat workers, according to Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon.

The railroad keeps a detailed log showing what chemicals are being transported on which cars, and local emergency response workers have guidebooks outlining the properties of chemicals and how they can react in a spill.

That gives law enforcement and firefighters an initial look at how serious a chemical spill could be, Gordon said.

Larson -- the Lake Park fire chief -- said he is pleased with how the emergency was handled.

"The biggest thing is, there were no chemicals or hazardous materials that leaked at any time," he said.

Larson said local emergency workers held a drill about a year ago that included a railroad derailment scenario.

"We talked about what to do and what not to do -- it was very useful, very useful," when the real thing happened, he said.