ALMA, Wis. (AP) — Human error caused a train derailment in November that sent more than 20,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, according to a BNSF Railway report.
In an accident report filed with the Federal Railroad Administration, BNSF said a train operator applied the dynamic brakes too rapidly, causing 25 cars to jump the tracks near Alma. The federal agency continues to investigate.
The 112-car train was traveling south at 26 mph when it derailed on Nov. 7. Five of its tankers leaked a combined 20,413 gallons of ethanol, according to the La Crosse Tribune.
There were no injuries in the derailment, which caused about $2.1 million in damage to rail equipment and tracks. The damage doesn’t reflect the cost of monitoring the Mississippi River, which BNSF is paying for.
“We dodged a bullet,” said Stephen Schiffli, Buffalo County’s director of emergency management. “It should be a wake-up call.”
In its report, BNSF also blamed the makeup of the train, which operators say can be a factor when empty cars are followed by loaded ones.
About 50 federal, state and private-sector personnel were involved in the environmental response. Water testing is scheduled to continue through July.
Mary Stefanski of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said there have been no documented cases of wildlife kills. Stefanski said responders believe most of the ethanol spilled into the railroad ballast — the bed of crushed stone beneath the tracks — but long-term monitoring is required to determine whether it is seeping into the water.