Train derails in Ames, spills hazardous chemical onto tracks near Skunk River

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AMES, Iowa — Twenty-seven train cars, including one which spilled hazardous materials, jumped the Union Pacific tracks in Ames Thursday afternoon.

“This is the first incident like this of my career,” said Ames Fire Chief Rich Higgins. “I’ve been with the city since 2001 and this is the first derailment that we’ve dealt with on this size and scope.”

Higgins said the train derailed at about 1:30 p.m. near the Dayton Avenue overpass, close to the Skunk River. One of the cars carrying liquid petroleum gas, the type of propane used in gas grills, started leaking when it overturned.

“We sent a Union Pacific team to go in and close a valve on that and stop that leak,” said Higgins, who added they dammed off the leak before it reached the Skunk River. “We quickly did a recon and started calling our partners in Des Moines HAZMAT and Story County Emergency Management. Some of those cars were on their side or upside down.”

The derailment blocked several heavily-traveled railroad crossings in Ames, including the Duff, Kellogg, Clark, and Hazel Avenue crossings. However, the leak did not reach the center of town and Union Pacific crews had the main road crossings reopened by 6 p.m.

“If we’re going to have a train derailment, of course we don’t want one, but I’d rather it happen out here than on Clark or Kellogg where it impacts multiple people,” Higgins said.

Higgins said he did send out a notice to evacuate nearby industrial plants, but the derailment did not happen near homes or any busy commercial areas.

In addition to the aforementioned first responders, the Story County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Natural Resources helped in the aftermath of the accident.

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