Ellendale train derailment ends with controlled explosions


ELLENDALE, Minn. – The train derailment in southern Minnesota came to an explosive conclusion Saturday morning.

Early Friday morning, four-cars in a Union Pacific train went off the tracks near the city of Ellendale in Steele County.  The cars began leaking flammable gas and forced an evacuation of the city and the creation of a no-fly zone.  After many hours, safety crews got the situation under control and residents were allowed to return to their homes.

However, there was still the issue of what to do with the pressurized flammable gas remaining in the rail cars.  Steve Belau of the Rochester Fire Department says there was no way to safely recover the gas remaining in the damaged liquid propane car and no way to access the scene to pump out the pressurized butane car.  The derailment occurred in a farm field a mile off the road, limiting access by recovery and safety vehicles.

Schematic of vent and burn operation (Source: Transportation Technology Center, Inc.)
Schematic of vent and burn operation (Source: Transportation Technology Center, Inc.)

That led Union Pacific to use a technique called “vent and burn.”  Demolition charges were placed at the high point and low point of each car, then set off.  That allowed the gas to burn off from the high point and the remaining liquid in the car to drain out through the low point.

The charges were set off around 3:50 am Saturday and produced a fire that was visible for several hours.

With the elimination of any further threat, the Rochester Fire Department HAZMAT team has been released from the scene and the incident has been turned over to the Union Pacific railroad company.

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