Freight Train Carrying Corn Syrup Derails in Arizona

The train’s operator said no hazardous materials were involved in the derailment, near the California and Nevada border.

The New York Times

A freight train that derailed in western Arizona on Wednesday night was carrying corn syrup, its operator said, hours after a report indicated that hazardous materials were on board.

The accident near the town of Topock, Ariz., occurred less than six weeks after a train derailment in Ohio released toxic chemicals and prompted a national conversation about railroad safety. In Wednesday night’s derailment, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office said there had been hazardous materials on board the train operated by BNSF, briefly raising fears of another airborne toxic event.

But in a statement early Thursday, a spokeswoman for BNSF said that the train had been carrying corn syrup when it derailed around 7:40 p.m.

“There were no injuries as a result of the derailment and preliminarily reports indicate there are no hazardous materials involved,” the spokeswoman, Lena Kent, said. She added that an estimated eight train cars had derailed and that the cause was under investigation.

BNSF operates a large freight railroad network across North America.

The accident happened close to Arizona’s border with California and Nevada, at a location where the tracks run parallel to Interstate 40, Anita Mortensen, a spokeswoman for the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, said on Wednesday night. She said the office had notified BNSF and the National Transportation Safety Board, the two entities that she said would be responding to the episode.

Sarah Taylor Sulick, a public affairs officer at the N.T.S.B., said in an email on Thursday that the agency was monitoring the situation but had not launched an investigation.

There had been bad weather in the Topock area on Wednesday evening: thunderstorms, pea-sized hail, and one to two inches of rain that fell in the area between about 5 and 7 p.m., according to Morgan Stessman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Las Vegas. A tornado warning was also in effect until 5:45 p.m., and heavy rain that had fallen at higher elevations earlier in the day was flowing into the area, she said.

The derailment occurred in a rural site about five or six miles east of Topock, in a location where a bridge crosses a “wash,” a normally dry channel where runoff flows during a rainstorm, said Ms. Stessman, who had been talking to an emergency worker in the area.

It was not immediately clear whether weather played a role in the derailment. Ms. Stessman said that, although it was unlikely that the heavy rain and runoff had washed out the bridge, rain could have damaged it or flooded the tracks.

“They’re not sure, and it’s really hard to tell since it’s dark out and it was dark when it happened,” she said, referring to the workers at the accident scene.

In early February, a train operated by Norfolk Southern that was carrying toxic chemicals derailed in eastern Ohio, igniting a fire that covered the town of East Palestine in smoke. That prompted evacuation orders, led to schools and roads being closed, and stirred concerns about air and water quality.

Another Norfolk Southern train derailed in Ohio on March 4. No hazardous materials were involved, but the derailment deepened concerns about rail safety and about the company’s performance.

On Tuesday, the Ohio attorney general filed a federal lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, charging that the East Palestine derailment was a product of the company’s negligence and recklessness.

The company’s chief executive, Alan H. Shaw, told Congress last week that he was “deeply sorry” for the effects of the February accident. But he stopped short of promising to pay for long-term damage to the community, and he declined to endorse bipartisan rail safety legislation that had been proposed in the Senate days earlier.