A portion of newly updated rail system at Great Plains Industrial Park will have to be replaced again following a derailment in August.

The Great Plains Development Authority board heard Thursday from the Great Plains park director and property manager about the derailment occurring Aug. 15 involving a Union Pacific train delivering wind turbine blades to the park, where the blades are stored by Transportation Partners & Logistics until wind energy companies are ready for them to be delivered.

On a train that hauls the turbine blades, one blade sits on two cars. A spacer car is placed between the two cars and the next two to keep the blade ends from contacting each other during transport.

One of the spacer cars went afoul and derailed at the switch area.

“When it ran afoul, it ran outside the track all the way around the S curve until it got up to the switch yard, where the lines switch out to the other eight lanes. And that car continued to follow that switch line and it got sideways, and it took the other two cars and just turned them and shoved them off in the ditch,” property manager Tim Peoples explained. “The track for the whole main line got twisted sideways.” 

The accident happened around 3 a.m. The Union Pacific Railroad called a crane company that had four cranes on site and several semitrailers already on site and working by the time Peoples showed up. U.P. took over the site, working with Progress Rail Services Corp., which leases the rail system within the industrial park and manages the traffic. Progress Rail, owned by Caterpillar Inc., is one of the largest integrated and diversified suppliers of railroad and transit system products and services worldwide. The company also offers railcar storage and repair at Great Plains.

The board members were thankful the accident occurred in a rail area that had been replaced, so responsibility for it did not fall on Great Plains. A $1.64 million grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation paid for the rehabilitation and replacement of rails within that portion of Great Plains.

Progress Rail called Jim Colvin of Pryor Track & Hoe to inspect the rails and see what needed to be done to get the main line back in shape. 

Through the grant-funded rail rehab project, Peoples said he put some extra material back, so they pulled from that stack to get the main line back in shape.

“Jim brought in a crew Sunday, and by Sunday evening the main line was back in shape and they were able to utilize it to get traffic going on the line,” Peoples said. 

Inspectors checked over the track before trains could run again.

Union Pacific and Progress Rail are working on the remainder of the repairs, as the derailment actually shifted the welded rail of the S curve 6 inches to the west, requiring extensive alignment work to be done.

Union Pacific did not return calls to the Parsons Sun requesting information on the accident.

Great Plains board member Gary Beachner said the on-call response crews are expensive, so the accident would definitely be costly. Peoples said he could not be exact in an estimate on the cost of the damage, but he guessed the rail repairs would be between $500,000 and $600,000.

“More than a fender bender,” Beachner said.

“It pulled the whole system sideways, both directions,” Peoples said. “It was quite an ordeal. They were probably out there 16 hours on that Sunday rebuilding and getting the main line running.”

Peoples said the cost of the repairs is being discussed between Progress Rail and U.P. Peoples provided KDOT’s specs to board members that show what would be required to return the rail to its original condition.

As a result of the accident, Peoples said he believed three cars ended up getting cut up and hauled off and two cars ended up being put back online because there was no damage to their braking systems.

Asked if the accident had damaged any of the blades, Peoples said it had resulted only in minor damage.

A board member inquired if there was a potential for it happening again. Peoples said he doesn’t know because it’s unknown exactly why the spacer car went afoul. All he could vouch for is the track and switch are in working order. Speaking to three different people with U.P., Peoples said he received three different opinions as to the cause, but none were offering any real specifics.

But he said U.P. is standing up and getting things taken care of.

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