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UP train derails, bridge burns

  : Tuesday December 14, 1999
  Thanks to Robert Huyck

A freight train which derailed in Portland, Oregon severed a gas pipeline causing gas to ignite engulfing a steel bridge in flames.

photo: channel 2000
The Union Pacific train, was turning onto the bridge at about 20:30 on Tuesday December 14 when the derailment occurred. Reports indicate that 5 grain cars of the 40 or 50 car train were derailed. One of the cars fell into the Willamette River below.

Burning gas from the pipleine, owned by Northwest Natural Gas shot flames 50 feet into the air. The temperature of the fire could have reached a temperature of 2000°F. This was potentially catastrophic for the historic steel bridge as steel loses most of its strength at 1000°F. Firefighters sprayed water onto the bridge to cool it while workers from N W Natural Gas cut the gas supply. The fire was extinguished around 2½ hours later.

Further hazards existed towards the rear of the train. A car containing propane was detached and moved away from the scene. Another car contained chlorine which is toxic if exposed to the air.

There was concern that the integrity of the bridge structure might have been compromised by the extreme heat. However, it was inspected at about 03:00 and declared fit for use. No-one was hurt in the incident.

The bridge has two decks, the lower used by UP and Amtrak trains and the upper deck is used by trains of the MAX light rail system. It was built in 1912 and is one of very few "dual lift" bridges in existence. The decks can be lifted independantly of each other.

Web sources:
Gas Fire: Steel Bridge Suffers No Damage
Channel 6000 15 Dec 1999
Train cars derail, sparking blaze
Seattle Times 15 Dec 1999
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This file last updated: Saturday, 18-Dec-1999 21:53:09 EST
Copyright © David Fry 1999

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