The Federal Railroad Administration has launched an investigation into the cause of a train derailment in Spartanburg early Friday morning after an engine and four cars – three of which carried highly flammable ethanol – left the tracks.
The CSX train was hauling 90 cars filled with ethanol, an alcohol-based fuel additive, but no fuel or chemicals leaked in the incident, Spartanburg Fire Chief Marion Blackwell said.
The derailment happened two days after the Obama administration proposed stricter rules for trains that carry oil and ethanol following several high-profile train wrecks in North America in the past year.
Under the proposal, which is open to public comment now, railroad companies would have to retrofit or phase out the majority of tank cars they use now in favor of stronger and costlier new cars within two years.
The federal investigation will determine the root cause of the Spartanburg wreck and any appropriate enforcement actions, an FRA spokesman said.
Investigators began the investigation on site Friday, but the investigation’s findings may not be known for some time, said Mike Booth, an FRA spokesman.
The train, operated by CSX, had three engines. The third engine derailed and pulled three ethanol-filled cars and a hopper car filled with sand off the tracks, Blackwell said.
The tankers landed “upside down in a ditch,” Blackwell said.
Crews from CSX pulled the engine back on track and worked Friday afternoon to flip the overturned cars, he said.
The train was nearing the end of its route from Illinois to South Carolina, said Carla Groleau, a CSX spokeswoman.
CSX also had a crew on site Friday to investigate the cause of the crash, said Blackwell and Groleau.
The incident occurred at 1:30 a.m. near North Daniel Morgan Avenue, Blackwell said. Train cars blocked the intersection of North Main St. and Henry Street for a time but were uncoupled and moved before 6:30 a.m., he said.
The train cars were headed south and rounded a curve at a slow speed to head west when the derailment occurred, he said.
Spartanburg fire crews and the county HAZMAT team responded and inspected the overturned cars, but didn’t find any leaks and little damage, he said.
“It was a very low speed derailment,” he said. “The product stayed in the containers.”
CSX crews plan to lift the train cars, turn them upright and set them alongside the track until they can be moved by tractor-trailer on Monday, he said.
Blackwell said this is the largest train derailment he had experienced in the city.
There were no injuries or evacuations, he said.