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Cleanup, Plans Begin after AZ Bridge Collapse

Thursday, August 6, 2020

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Officials are in the beginning stages of repair work on the Salt River Union Pacific Bridge, in Tempe, Arizona, which partially collapsed last week after a train derailed on the structure, setting it ablaze and sending debris into the lake below.

A partial demolition of about 150 feet of the structure took place on Sunday, allowing for further assessments on the bridge’s future to begin.

What Happened

At around 6 a.m. last Wednesday (July 29), about 90 firefighters were dispatched to the scene as thick black smoke and flames were pouring from train cars.

The train, which was traveling from Tucson to Phoenix, had 102 cars and around 10 caught fire, according to Tim McMahan, a spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad, which privately owns the bridge.

Two of the cars that caught fire were carrying cyclohexanone—a pale, flammable liquid that is sometimes used in paint remover—and a few other cars were reportedly carrying lumber; several cars fell to the park below.

Tempe Fire Chief Greg Ruiz reported later that day that no one was injured during the blaze, though the train conductor was treated for smoke inhalation and one firefighter was treated for dehydration.

Previous Derailment & Inspection

This was the second derailment in as many months. On June 26, a different Union Pacific train derailed 12 cars along the same bridge. That incident reportedly caused some damages to the bridge and rail ties, though the damage was described as “very minor.” A few hours after the derailment, however, the Rio Salado Parkway was closed for two days for “bridge repair.”

It’s not clear if the previous incident had any part in last week’s collapse, but Union Pacific noted that the bridge undergoes visual inspection every 30 days—the last one taking place on July 9—and that the bridge was found “in good standing.”

All of those documents, however, were turned over for a federal investigation, which include the National Transportation Safety Board, the Arizona Corporation Commission and the FBI.

What Now

Two rail cars that were stuck on the bridge were reportedly carrying more of the cyclohexanone, which needed to be removed before the demolition. Reportedly two workers suffered injuries in the cleanup effort.

The only car left was a lumber car, which was left to fall into the water and to be collected then. The controlled demolition occurred around 8 a.m. on Sunday, which reportedly went as planned.

At a news conference on Monday, officials said that they are moving forward with cleanup and construction.

Officials estimate that other segments of the bridge should be able to stay intact and, according to Fox 10, some residents are concerned with the aesthetics of that project.

"Many were concerned with the rebuilding and how it looks, because while it may be their bridge, it is our city," said Tempe Mayor Corey Woods.

Either way, Union Pacific spokesperson Clint Schelbitzki went on record to say that a timeline for the repair would be in weeks “not months” and that, "It all depends on how the process goes over the next several days."

A small portion of that process was recently completed, however, as the FBI’s investigation concluded that there was no foul play.

It is still unclear if the derailment or train itself caused the collapse, or if a bridge failure caused the derailment.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Bridges; Federal Railroad Administration; Health and safety; Maintenance + Renovation; NA; North America; Rail; Safety

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