By Sue Moore
“Sparks began to fly as we were waiting for the train to pass on the tracks at West Prairie Street,” said Bill Adams. He and his wife had been waiting at the grade crossing on Sunday evening, Dec. 23. “The train was slowing down and a boxcar was leaning right over. It appeared to be close to the end of the train. We later found out it was filled with plywood and nothing hazardous.”
“The bearings on one boxcar seized up and separated from the hub on the 89-car train,” said Vicksburg Department of Public Works Director Randy Schippers. “The train couldn’t move. The crew had to walk along each car with a flashlight to see what happened. They handled it real well. The Canadian National railroad police were here on Monday to inspect the tracks. They said it was the 10th derailment in the last week on the tracks going from here to Chicago.”
Fire Chief Tracy McMillan was called into action by the sheriff’s department. He immediately moved to place equipment at locations in Schoolcraft and Vicksburg. It was clear that fire trucks would have to go way around to answer any kind of call since five crossings were closed on Portage Road, W Ave., Boulevard, W. Prairie and N. Main Street. The train had successfully passed V Avenue and Richardson Street before the sparks began to fly, he noted.
“I was on edge,” said McMillan. “A delay like that is not good. We have a plan to get by the crossings on alternate routes if a call comes in, but it didn’t. If it had been a spill we have to be concerned with HazMat and the environmental possibilities if it is a leaky tank car. We have a refresher drill once a year on how to assist on a derailment. If a boxcar is burning, we have to determine the type of chemical involved. The smoke can be no good and our water sources can be affected with contamination.”
Teams from Canadian National were on the scene all night, McMillan said. They were able to uncouple the front part of the train and send it on its way to Chicago. They brought in another locomotive from Battle Creek to remove the latter part of the train to a freight yard near Scotts. Special equipment was needed to get the boxcar upright and moved. “All the crossings were cleared by 8 a.m. on Monday morning,” McMillan said.
The media representative for Canadian National said he was unable to comment when contacted. He said, “the incident is still under investigation” and would not have anything further to add.