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Report: Operator error caused 2015 train derailment by Alma

ALMA, Wis. (AP) — Federal investigators said crew fatigue may have contributed to the derailment of a BNSF freight train that spilt more than 20,000 gallons of ethanol last year in western Wisconsin.

The engineer and the conductor scored poorly on the Federal Railroad Administration’s fatigue-analysis tool, even though they each had more than 13 hours of rest before beginning their shift at 1 a.m. on Nov. 17, 2015. The derailment occurred nearly 8 hours later.

Both employees passed alcohol and drug screenings.

A report released Tuesday said the engineer violated railroad guidelines by applying the brakes too suddenly, causing 25 cars to jump the tracks near Alma. Braking rapidly can cause momentum at the rear of a train, which can push cars off the track, the La Crosse Tribune ( ) reported.

According to the report, the freight train was traveling at 26 mph when it derailed, and was previously slowed from 54 mph. The maximum speed limit on the track where the incident occurred is 60 mph and the train was restricted to 55 mph, according to the FRA report.

The administration also found that the layout of the more than 100-car train, which had heavily-loaded cars behind dozens of lighter and empty cars, contributed to the derailment.

The FRA said the incident was the result of poor handling. Marc Willis, an FRA spokesman, said the agency decided against fining the railroad after concluding that the engineer had not violated any federal regulations.

Amy McBeth, a BNSF spokeswoman, said the engineer is no longer employed at the company.

No injuries were reported in the incident, which caused about $2.1 million worth of damage to rail equipment.

The derailment was one of several rail accidents to occur last winter in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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