Thermopolis – A Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper patrolling US 20/WYO 789 in the Wind River Canyon was witness to a Burlington Northern freight train derailment into the Big Horn River shortly after noon Wednesday, according to a press release from the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
After the derailment the two engineers aboard the locomotive climbed out the side window of the lead locomotive as the cab filled with water. The engineers made their way to the safety of the
hillside. The Trooper and the engineers yelled back and forth to each other across the river and the engineers advised they had no serious injuries.
The incident began when the Trooper noticed a huge rock resting on the rail line in the canyon approximately 6 miles south of Thermopolis. The Trooper notified the Wyoming Highway Patrol Dispatch Center in Cheyenne who in turn was on the phone notifying Burlington Northern of the
blocked rail. The Trooper estimated the rock to be about 8 feet across and 6 feet high.
Before Burlington Northern could make notification to their personnel a southbound train struck the rock. Both lead locomotives and the first three cars derailed with the lead locomotive going into the Big Horn River.
The Big Horn River separates highway US 20/WYO 789 and the railroad line and the Trooper was unable to cross the river. It has been determined that the locomotives are spilling diesel fuel from their fuel tanks into the river. In addition, the first rail car behind the locomotives was loaded with bentonite which is also spilling into the river.
Wyoming Highway Patrol Troopers remain on scene to assist the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Department and the Hot Springs County Search and Rescue. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has also been notified of the hazardous material spill into the Big Horn River.
At this time it is unknown how much damage has been done to Burlington Northerns rail line or the quality of the river. US 20/WYO 789 through the Wind River Canyon remains open to vehicular traffic.
Troopers report snowfall and snow mixed with rain has been falling in the area since last evening.
The Big Horn County Sheriff's Department will possibly be used as municipal aide for the agencies dealing with the accident, according to Sheriff Ken Blackburn.
Photo courtesy Wyoming Highway Patrol