Cleanup of oil spill continues in Plainfield
Investigators not saying much on the cause
By MIKE MALLORY
PLAINFIELD, IL – Pastor BT Norman got a call Friday evening asking whether he and others at Community Christian Church in Plainfield were OK.
A 115-car train had just derailed from its tracks near the industrial-building-turned-church on Riverwalk Court, north of downtown Plainfield off of Route 59.
People at the church were fine.
“Then I found out we had the opportunity to host all of the emergency responder cleanup efforts,” Norman said.
Crews still were on scene Monday managing the aftermath of the derailment, which spilled some 40,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil near the DuPage River. They parked their vehicles in the church’s parking lot Friday and had access to the church building for refreshments, shelter and its bathrooms.
“We were just privileged to be able take care of those who take care of us all the time. It was an honor to do that,” Norman said.
Crews left the church just in time for service to go on as planned Sunday morning.
“It was an amazing effort on their part to work quickly and make it possible for us to have church,” Norman said.
Canadian National, which owns and operates the railroad where the derailment occurred, brought about 1,000 feet of replacement tracks to the church’s parking lot and installed it Saturday. Trains were running again Sunday afternoon.
Nearly all oil recovered
In the meantime, cleanup will continue.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representative Mike Beslow said Monday that all leaking tank cars have been either plugged or vacuumed out. Some oil was released into an excavation pit and almost all oil has been recovered.
Site analysis so far shows that no oil entered the nearby DuPage River, Beslow said.
“We have seen no impact to the river or any navigable waterways,” Beslow said. “I would say the threat of oil releasing into waterways has been mitigated.”
The U.S. EPA is now transitioning oversight to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Will County, Beslow said. It’s likely the U.S. EPA would only get involved again if assistance is requested, he added.
Local agencies will be tasked with removing oil from the soil where the spill occurred, Beslow said.
Will County Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Harold Damron said Monday that his office’s role is winding down as the threat of immediate danger is nearly gone. But Damron did say that incidents such as this draw attention and awareness to the risks of crude oil transportation.
He said because of the spills that have occurred across the country, agencies such as his have better communication with railroad companies. Fire departments such as Plainfield’s have been able to train specifically to respond to railroad emergencies such as the one Friday.
“There are a lot of communities doing a good job in preparing for disasters, but I would point to Plainfield as a good role model,” Damron said. “They take disaster very seriously here, whether it’s flooding, a train derailment or tornado.”
Some residents have raised concerns on social media that a Nicor natural gas pipeline replacement project near the failed CN tracks had something to do with the derailment.
Neither CN nor Nicor is commenting in detail on the possibility that the pipeline project, which crosses paths with the railroad tracks in the area of the derailment, played a role in the mishap.
Nicor is in the midst of modernizing a pipeline throughout northern Illinois that passes through Plainfield, crossing the railroad tracks and DuPage River, according to a map Nicor published in February.
The natural gas company is replacing a 6.9-mile segment of natural gas transmission pipeline within ComEd right of way. Work on the pipeline was approaching the railroad, which could be seen from aerial photographs Friday.
CN spokesman Patrick Waldon said Monday that CN “continues to move forward with its comprehensive investigation regarding the cause and circumstances of Friday’s incident,” but added CN doesn’t have a specific comment on the pipeline project yet.
In an email, Nicor spokesman Duane Bourne said, “we are aware of the train derailment in Plainfield that occurred in the area where a contractor was conducting work. We are monitoring the situation and will continue to assist local authorities as they investigate this incident.”
Brown said construction on the pipeline project in the immediate area has been temporarily delayed.
The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating. But the FRA wouldn’t go into detail, either.
“The cause of the incident is under investigation. However, there will be a public report that the railroad provides available on the FRA database Oct. 1,” FRA spokeswoman Tiffany Lindemann said in an email.
Train derailment dumps thousands of gallons of crude oil in Plainfield
Damaged train cars sit beside tracks, awaiting further dismantling, on July 3, 2017, in the wake of a train derailment and oil spill near Riverwalk Court and Route 59 in Plainfield, Ill. The derailment occurred June 30 as the train, carrying crude oil for Exxon to Louisiana, passed through Plainfield. Officials said 20 of the freight train's 115 cars went off the tracks. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
Alicia FabbreChicago Tribune
Cleanup efforts continued Saturday in Plainfield after a train carrying crude oil derailed early Friday evening.
No one was injured in the derailment. Officials confirmed that oil leaked from two of the cars on the Canadian National freight train, and a possible third car was leaking oil. It remained unclear how much oil had leaked, but one estimate suggested as much as 45,000 gallons of oil had leaked out of the two cars.
Rail and environmental officials stressed that there were no signs of oil seeping into the DuPage River, which lies just 1,200 feet away from the derailed train. Plainfield firefighters used foam to contain the leaked oil.
“We believe by all standards that there is no measurable risk to the community,” Plainfield police Chief John Konopek said at a news conference Saturday morning.
The derailment occurred around 6:30 p.m. as the train, carrying crude oil for Exxon to Louisiana, passed through Plainfield. Officials said 20 of the freight train's 115 cars went off the tracks. The derailment began at the train’s 75th car and caused significant damage to the railroad, said Jim Kvedaras, director of U.S. government affairs for Canadian National. The two rail cars that leaked oil had punctures that were described as walnut- and wrist-sized, Kvedaras said.
The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the incident, but no cause for the derailment was immediately available.
The scene of a freight train derailment that occurred June 30, 2017, in Plainfield is seen in an aerial view. (WGN-TV)
Village officials noted that the incident occurred near where excavation for a natural gas pipeline project was taking place. Much of the oil spilled into the trenches already dug out for the pipeline.
“If this had to happen in Plainfield, it’s very fortunate that it happened where it happened,” Konopek said, noting that the derailment did not occur near a residential area and no one was in “harm's way.”
Exactly how much oil has leaked will not be known until the leaking cars can be removed and off-loaded, Kvedaras said. However, one estimate suggests one car lost its entire cargo of 30,000 gallons of crude oil while the other car lost about half of its cargo, said Michael Beslow, an on-scene coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Beslow said the EPA had not found any signs of oil in nearby waterways. While the smell of oil wafted in the air, Beslow said air monitoring did not suggest any problems.
Cleanup is likely to take a few days to complete. Officials noted 30 different state, federal, local and private agencies were on-site working to clean up the area.
As of Saturday morning, Riverwalk Court, and the businesses along it, remained closed, Konopek said. He asked that motorists stay away from the area to allow crews to work.
Cleanup progresses at Plainfield train derailment site
19 rail cars derail in Plainfield, three leak crude oil
By ALEX ORTIZ July 2, 2017
PLAINFIELD, IL – Officials working to contain and clean up about 40,000 gallons of spilled Canadian crude oil from a wooded area near Route 59 and 143rd Street say they expect to have the rest of the derailed rail cars cleared away by Sunday.
Plainfield Deputy Fire Chief Jon Stratton said most of the cars had been removed from the site as of Saturday afternoon. Cleaning up the spilled crude oil will take longer than removing the cars, however.
“This is a very slow, meticulous process,” Stratton said. “It takes a lot of time.”
Local authorities on Saturday issued a call for an investigation by federal authorities into the derailment, which has polluted the environment and could have been much worse had any of the spilled oil burst into flame.
The rail crash occurred around 6:30 p.m. Friday. Environmental Protection Agency representative Mike Beslow estimated that about one and a half train cars’ worth of oil spilled. Each of the 115 tanker cars on the train that crashed can carry 30,000 gallons of crude.
“I am extremely grateful that there have been no injuries reported from this accident so far, but we are facing a dangerous situation that requires a massive cleanup effort,” said Will County Board member Gretchen Fritz, R-Plainfield. “We can’t afford to have something happen like this and put our residents at risk.”
Plainfield resident and former Village Board member Jim Racich said he’s had concerns about possible train mishaps in the past and worries that a worse catastrophe could happen.
“I don’t think trains like that should ride through Plainfield,” Racich said.
Train derailments in recent years nationwide have proven to be worse than Friday’s. In 2016, a Union Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge near Mosier, which sparked a large fire. In 2015, 21 cars of a 105-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe train carrying oil from North Dakota derailed three miles outside Galena, causing two to burst into flame.
But Plainfield Mayor Michael Collins said that although mishaps are cause for concern, as a lifelong resident he never has seen a derailment happen
in the village. He agreed that the derailment could not have happened in a better place – away from any residential areas. Collins also praised the response and preparedness from the various emergency service departments working on the scene.
“The fire department and police department have gone through a series of training for something like this,” he said.
Stratton said that a hazard is always possible with materials carried by rail through the village. He said a fire or explosion could happen with an ignition source such as power lines or even metal striking metal.
“It could have happened last night,” Stratton said. “Absolutely.”
However, there were no fires or injuries in the derailment, authorities said.
“We believe that, by all standards, that there is no measurable threat to the community,” Plainfield Police Chief John Konopek said.
REASON FOR CRASH UNCLEAR
Authorities said they does not know how the train derailed or how long it will take to clean up the cars, but it would take “quite a bit of time” to get it contained and cleaned up.
It will be up to federal regulators from the Federal Railroad Administration to determine the cause of the crash, with Environmental Protection Agency officials tasked with assessing the damage.
The derailment caused 19 cars in the 115-car train to leave the tracks. Three of the cars were punctured, causing them to spill their contents, said Jim Kvedaras from U.S. Government Affairs at CN Transportation Services.
The holes in the train cars were the size of a walnut and a wrist, Kvedaras said. The third car was driven into the ground but also appeared be leaking. The derailment started at the 75th car of the train, he said.
Foam was used near the derailment site to mitigate the damage caused by the oil.
The foam is meant to blanket the area where the oil was spilled as well as to take away any ignition source that could lead to a fire or explosion. There was concern of the oil leaking into the nearby DuPage River, but Fisher said on Friday that the oil effectively was kept from reaching the river.
“All efforts are being made right now to make sure that continues,” Fisher said.
Fisher also said businesses within a 1,000-foot radius of the spill had been evacuated, but not homes.
The derailment occurred on CN railroad tracks between Route 59 and 143rd Street.
Several area businesses closed on Friday and some remained closed on Saturday, although no evacuation was ordered. Community Christian Church at 24035 Riverwalk Court in Plainfield is expected to reopen on Sunday.
“This is going to have a large impact on traffic and for people’s ability to get around town,” Fisher said.