Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Union Pacific RR Derailment: Tempe AZ [Update: July 30]

 

A Union Pacific Railroad mixed freight train derailed, caught fire, and caused the collapse of the heavy rail bridge over Tempe Town Lake. That bridge reportedly was the site of another derailment in June. The location is a low speed section. with an area light rail bridge next to the heavy rail bridge. Just on the north side of the bridge is a major highway loop, Loop 202, carrying people in and out of Phoenix. The smoke could be rising into one of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport landing flight paths, and they were be keeping an eye on the potential explosion of tanker cars. Reportedly, the FAA redirected flight traffic onto the north runways, to keep further low flying traffic out of the area. Thankfully, no lives have been lost so far in this derailment.

A stretch of Loop 202 was closed for several hours, but ADOT reported Loop 202 reopened in time for afternoon commuter traffic. A traffic camera image from 5 pm showed no sign of smoke left at the west end of the railroad bridge.

Tempe RR bridge view Loop 202

On the other hand, Valley Metro light rail service will be cut to either side of the derailment until the derailment is cleared and the light rail bridge inspected. So, the area mass transit has reverted back to busses to connect around the affected area.

This local news broadcast video is very solid:

Fox10 carried the best-imbedded video of the afternoon Tempe city conference. There is a slow leak of cyclohexane from a tanker car, a highly flammable industrial feedstock. The Tempe detectives and FBI special agents were both on-site early, as Tempe Police Department called them immediately. It is clear from the conference that the Union Pacific Railroad has the lead on clearing the derailment and returning the bridge to safe operating conditions. Fire fighting is led by Tempe Fire and supported by other cities called upon in mutual aid. Multiple federal agencies are on scene, with more flying or driving in.

Since this same site has had two derailments in a month, it is reasonable to consider both human failure and human malice. Union Pacific has strong incentives to keep its tracks in good working order. They have had the cash reserves over the decades to do major maintenance when the economy dips deep enough to decrease rail traffic demand. State and federal authorities, along with the railroad, will be looking very closely at the physical evidence.

Is derailment too conspiratorial? Consider that Arizona has an unsolved case of rail sabotage from 1995, which resulted in the derailment of an Amtrak passenger train, killing one and injuring 100 people. Amtrak runs on the same rails as freight trains.

As Neal Hallford saw rescue workers approaching, he stepped outside his train car for some fresh air.

Under the light of a full moon, he says, something caught his eye: in the dirt, a piece of paper under a rock by the wreckage.

It was a typewritten, anti-government manifesto. The note, Hallford says, was signed, “Sons of Gestapo.”

[. . .]

Along with the notes, railroad spikes had been removed and left by the track. Whoever did this overrode the railroad’s safety system so the train conductor had no idea what was coming.

“They had tampered with the tracks,” McCormick says. “And it was done in such a way that someone knew how to derail a train.”

Prior to this investigation, no one had ever heard of the Sons of Gestapo. And no one has heard of them since.

The derailment may well turn out to be an accident, as there have been no early claims of responsibility by anyone. The AZCentral story on the current freight train derailment is very good reporting, with lots of visuals.

UPDATE: Two maps of the Union Pacific rail lines give you some more context and help evaluate news stories. Here is a close-up view, showing how the tracks sharply change direction to each side of the bridge, suggesting that the Tempe bridge is an inherently low-speed section. The rail lines are in yellow.

Tempe Derailment site

Here is the big picture view, showing that the freight passing through the state moves on a line well to the south. Containers arriving in southern California ports move east on this southern route. So, freight trains passing over the bridge in Tempe are making stops through the Valley of the Sun. That route will be more limited, as trains will have to shuttle back and forth to either side of the fallen bridge, rather than passing through on east-west routes.

Union Pacific Arizona

The railroad bridge spanned the Salt River, which only flowed seasonally for many years. The water you can see under the bridge is from an artificial lake. Tempe Town Lake was created in a section of the riverbed in 1999.

Tempe Town Lake is Arizona’s second-most visited public attraction. The more than 2-mile long lake was created by damming a portion of the dry Salt River and adding water. Today, the lake continues to act like a river to convey rainwater and snow run-off by lowering the dam when needed and raising it again to maintain the water within the lake.

[. . .]

Since its origin in 1999, the City of Tempe has built several parks and facilities along the lake’s shores, including the Tempe Center for the Arts, Town Lake Marina, a Veterans Memorial, a Public Safety Memorial, volleyball courts, a boat beach and several habitat areas.

The tanker car leak is not entering the water. It is contained in a dry catchment area on the south shore. The public assessment after 24 hours is that there is no evidence of criminal activity so far. However, determining the cause will take some time. The leaking tanker was craned back upright and the leak stopped. The amount leaked is estimated to only be 500 gallons. The goal is to off-load and then remove the tanker cars by Sunday. Valley Metro light rail will continue to shuttle passengers around the parallel light rail bridge.

ABC15 streamed the Thursday afternoon update. This briefing included a Union Pacific spokeswoman. She reported that they have suspended recovery operations while investigations are carried out into the cause. This is so that clean up does not destroy evidence that will help solve the puzzle of how the derailment happened. She assured people in the area that they are rerouting trains to still serve customers in the Phoenix area. She also affirmed that the bridge will be rebuilt, as it is important to rail operations in the Phoenix area. She repeatedly declined to answer questions that called for speculation about the incident, saying over and over that the railroad wanted to respect the ongoing investigations.

I am impressed with the professionalism and apparent competence of everyone from the city to the railroad.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Clifford A. Brown: Derailment too conspiratorial? Consider that Arizona has an unsolved case of rail sabotage from 1995, that resulted in the derailment of an Amtrak passenger train, killing one and injuring 100 people. Amtrak runs on the same rails as freight trains.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tmzbosye2-Y

    • #1
    • July 29, 2020, at 5:27 PM PDT
    • Like
    • This comment has been edited.
  2. RightAngles Member

    OMG I hate driving on bridges. A bridge in Minneapolis collapsed with a lot of cars on it a few years ago. I hate them and I don’t trust any of them. Here’s one I have to drive across occasionally:

    • #2
    • July 29, 2020, at 5:36 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    OMG I hate driving on bridges. A bridge in Minneapolis collapsed with a lot of cars on it a few years ago. I hate them and I don’t trust any of them. Here’s one I have to drive across occasionally:

    Heh, that’s cute.

    • #3
    • July 29, 2020, at 5:40 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    (Wait until the Lousianans show up.)

    • #4
    • July 29, 2020, at 5:41 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  5. RightAngles Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    (Wait until the Lousianans show up.)

    Ha! Or Key West.

    • #5
    • July 29, 2020, at 5:49 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. Seawriter Contributor

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    OMG I hate driving on bridges. A bridge in Minneapolis collapsed with a lot of cars on it a few years ago. I hate them and I don’t trust any of them. Here’s one I have to drive across occasionally:

    Then you definitely do not want to cross the Neches River on this bridge:

    Rainbow bridge – built so high to let a dirigible tender pass underneath.

    • #6
    • July 29, 2020, at 6:15 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  7. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The guy I shared an office with at the time was one of the last people to drive over the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee before they closed it when the beams cracked – he definitely felt the dip when he drove through it.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoan_Bridge#:~:text=The%20Hoan%20Bridge%20was%20temporarily,injured%20when%20the%20bridge%20failed.

    • #7
    • July 29, 2020, at 6:24 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  8. Jon1979 Lincoln

    I was surprised to see in one of the initial stories on today’s incident that the UP bridge was almost a century old. I wouldn’t have thought it or Tempe Town Lake would date back that far, given the explosive growth of the Phoenix area since air-conditioning became commonplace in the 1960s. If the bridge really is that on in years, I suppose infrastructure problems would be more likely — because of the mountains due east of Phoenix, it and Tempe have never been a major east-west rail hub; the UP’s main line through Arizona is the old Southern Pacific route, which only gets as close to Phoenix as Casa Grande/Maricopa, which is about 40 miles south of downtown, so the Tempe line wouldn’t be kept up to the same high-speed standards as the line between Tucson and Yuma (which is also the line Amtrak uses between Los Angeles and San Antonio).

    • #8
    • July 29, 2020, at 7:45 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    OMG I hate driving on bridges. A bridge in Minneapolis collapsed with a lot of cars on it a few years ago. I hate them and I don’t trust any of them. Here’s one I have to drive across occasionally:

    Then you definitely do not want to cross the Neches River on this bridge:

    Rainbow bridge – built so high to let a dirigible tender pass underneath.

    Interstate 81 at the far northern end, where the Thousand Islands Bridge gets you over the western mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway before you hit the Canadian border checkpoint, is the same way, with the bonus of massive amounts of ice and snow in the winter. Happy Motoring!

    • #9
    • July 29, 2020, at 7:55 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  10. Flicker Coolidge

    I don’t really mind driving on a bridge, but I’ve had nightmares about these bridges that take off at, seemingly, 30 degrees and then at the top, the curve of the bridge is so great that you can’t see ahead of you and you’re in cross winds. I’d rather be in a plane.

    • #10
    • July 29, 2020, at 9:09 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  11. brad2971 Inactive

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: Derailment too conspiratorial? Consider that Arizona has an unsolved case of rail sabotage from 1995, that resulted in the derailment of an Amtrak passenger train, killing one and injuring 100 people. Amtrak runs on the same rails as freight trains.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tmzbosye2-Y

    And a couple years after that, UP mothballed the line from about Buckeye to where it meets the other mainline at Yuma. Which is why Phoenix’s Amtrak stop is in…Maricopa (City). 

    • #11
    • July 30, 2020, at 6:59 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    I was surprised to see in one of the initial stories on today’s incident that the UP bridge was almost a century old. I wouldn’t have thought it or Tempe Town Lake would date back that far, given the explosive growth of the Phoenix area since air-conditioning became commonplace in the 1960s. If the bridge really is that on in years, I suppose infrastructure problems would be more likely — because of the mountains due east of Phoenix, it and Tempe have never been a major east-west rail hub; the UP’s main line through Arizona is the old Southern Pacific route, which only gets as close to Phoenix as Casa Grande/Maricopa, which is about 40 miles south of downtown, so the Tempe line wouldn’t be kept up to the same high-speed standards as the line between Tucson and Yuma (which is also the line Amtrak uses between Los Angeles and San Antonio).

    You are right about the bridge age issue. The Tempe section would be low speed anyway, I believe, due to the short line and the sharp curves in the track to either side of the bridge. The artificial lake is a recent thing, created in the river bed of the Salt River in 1999.

    • #12
    • July 30, 2020, at 3:42 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Clifford A. Brown:

    A traffic camera image from 5 pm showed no sign of smoke left at the west end of the railroad bridge.

    Tempe RR bridge view Loop 202

    Is that rush hour in Phoenix? No wonder the GDP numbers suck so bad.

     

    • #13
    • July 30, 2020, at 5:49 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Full Size Tabby Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    OMG I hate driving on bridges. A bridge in Minneapolis collapsed with a lot of cars on it a few years ago. I hate them and I don’t trust any of them. Here’s one I have to drive across occasionally:

    When we lived near Rochester NY, if there were high winds or if it was snowing I would avoid the tall bridge over Irondequoit Bay. I knew of no cars or trucks being blown off the bridge, but many of us had experienced being blown out of our lane while crossing the bridge during windy periods. 

    But during the summer it was interesting to watch the outside temperature thermometer on the car drop several degrees as I approached the bridge and crossed the bay, then see the temperature rise again as I drove up onto land on the other side. 

    • #14
    • July 30, 2020, at 5:55 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Rainbow bridge – built so high to let a dirigible tender pass underneath.

    Wow; what a sight that would be!

    • #15
    • July 30, 2020, at 7:18 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    This must be very upsetting to the half dozen people that actually ride the light rail. 

    • #16
    • July 30, 2020, at 7:23 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    But during the summer it was interesting to watch the outside temperature thermometer on the car drop several degrees as I approached the bridge and crossed the bay, then see the temperature rise again as I drove up onto land on the other side. 

    My regular commute takes me over the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee, which runs right along the shore of Lake Michigan. I see that a lot on hot days when there is any kind of breeze from the east.

    • #17
    • July 30, 2020, at 8:07 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    OMG I hate driving on bridges. A bridge in Minneapolis collapsed with a lot of cars on it a few years ago. I hate them and I don’t trust any of them. Here’s one I have to drive across occasionally:

    When we lived near Rochester NY, if there were high winds or if it was snowing I would avoid the tall bridge over Irondequoit Bay. I knew of no cars or trucks being blown off the bridge, but many of us had experienced being blown out of our lane while crossing the bridge during windy periods.

    But during the summer it was interesting to watch the outside temperature thermometer on the car drop several degrees as I approached the bridge and crossed the bay, then see the temperature rise again as I drove up onto land on the other side.

    The twin spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge are interesting, in that the newer westbound span has three lanes, so if a driver doesn’t want to be close to either railing they can just hang out in the middle lane for the entire 4 1/2 mile jaunt across the bay. The older eastbound span is only two lanes and has the added bonus of having honeycombed metal grills in the center area of each lane (the area where the wheels are supposed to be is paved). You can’t see directly down to the water from your car, but the light shining through does give you a couple of moments to think about how diligent the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Authority is in their rust detection efforts.

    • #18
    • July 30, 2020, at 9:58 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  19. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown:

    A traffic camera image from 5 pm showed no sign of smoke left at the west end of the railroad bridge.

    Tempe RR bridge view Loop 202

    Is that rush hour in Phoenix? No wonder the GDP numbers suck so bad.

    First, yes the traffic is down significantly on this stretch of road. Second, this is not Phoenix. It is just east of Phoenix in Tempe. You should be seeing heavier traffic in the lanes to the left in this photograph, heading out of Phoenix and south Scottsdale towards a north-south loop and east to suburban communities in Mesa. However, since the road was closed earlier in the day, people may be taking a parallel highway route a few miles to the south.

    • #19
    • July 30, 2020, at 11:13 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    TBA (View Comment):

    This must be very upsetting to the half dozen people that actually ride the light rail.

    There are a good number more than that, but yes, it is badly underutilized by people other than the drug addicts/homeless. If the university was actually going to be in session, the light rail carries students back and forth between the Tempe and downtown Phoenix campus. It also gets people to and from Sky Harbor, both passengers and workers.

    • #20
    • July 30, 2020, at 11:20 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Seawriter Contributor

    namlliT noD (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Rainbow bridge – built so high to let a dirigible tender pass underneath.

    Wow; what a sight that would be!

    It never happened. The ship in question was USS Patoka, a fleet oiler with a mooring boom for Navy dirigibles.

    Patoka was in commission in this configuration during the early 1930s – when the Navy had dirigibles Los Angeles (ZR-3) and Akron (ZRS-4). After the loss of Akron in 1933 Los Angeles and Patoka were retired. Rainbow Bridge was designed in 1934-35 and built in 1936-38. Patoka was still on the books (it was recommissioned, sans mooring boom) as a fleet oiler in WWII), and Rainbow Bridge was downstream of the Navy’s anchorage at Orange, TX. (It is now used for decommissioned ships in mothballs.) So the bridge’s design allowed the 177foo-tall Patoka  to pass underneath – which it never did.

    The height was not a total loss. It allowed oil rigs to be built at Orange Shipyard. Seventy-seven were built there.

    • #21
    • July 31, 2020, at 3:42 AM PDT
    • 6 likes