Derailment cleared from 3 crossings in Hotchkiss

Employees with Union Pacific railroad work to place wood blocks under a derailed engine near the intersection of North Second Street in Hotchkiss on Wednesday.

HOTCHKISS —  A scheduled upgrade of the rail line through the North Fork Valley didn’t happen soon enough to prevent a derailment Wednesday morning near downtown Hotchkiss.

Around 8 a.m., one engine and five cars in a train of 105 empty cars heading to the Arco coal mine near Somerset derailed, according to Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis.

The derailment closed crossings at Colorado Highway 92 and at North First and North Second streets in Hotchkiss for hours. Colorado 92 reopened at 1:17 p.m.

The highway closure forced motorists to make a 10-mile detour around the town during the incident. There was no danger to the public, Town Marshal Daniel Miller said.

“It could have been a lot worse,”  Chad Lloyd, another Hotchkiss marshal, said.

Some of the empty cars were barely on the track. The wheels of others were on the ground. An empty coal car was off the track at the North Second Street crossing.

Three engines from Grand Junction responded to Hotchkiss to help separate the cars in order to reopen Colorado 92.

Lloyd and Miller blamed lack of track maintenance by Union Pacific.

“What I was told was that the track had separated and the cars had come off,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd said his office received several complaints recently about the track being hazardous, one of which came from the town’s administration. He said he had not heard of any action taken by Union Pacific in response to the concerns, but that the railroad had been made aware of the concerns.

“We take the track structure and derailment prevention very seriously,” Davis said. “And the cause of this incident is still under investigation.”

Davis said Union Pacific checks track conditions three times a week visually. In addition, twice each year, it uses electronic instruments to look inside the metal of the rails.

“We spend billions (of dollars) each year in upkeep,” Davis said. “And that’s our money.”

He said the company plans to spend $3.2 billion on track maintenance this year alone.

Davis said an $11.2 million project to upgrade the track from Grand Junction to Somerset is scheduled to start this week and will last through April.

About seven years ago, a derailment caused several tons of coal to spill within the town, Lloyd said. Rusted wheels from that incident can be seen near the Coaltrain Coffeehouse.

Lloyd said six trains per day pass through the area. Three haul coal from North Fork valley mines. Three empty trains travel back to the mines.

“It’s not just about the inconvenience for the drivers, it also affects emergency medical, fire, police, when the intersections are blocked,” Lloyd said.


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