Residents of the small town of Mesa described hearing an enormous crash followed by a towering cloud of smoke early Monday evening. The crash was a derailment of 31 cars of a Burlington Northern/Santa Fe coal train en-route to British Columbia. The cloud was coal dust and when it cleared, the wreckage was astounding.
Nobody was injured but all but one of the cars was destroyed. They were scattered the length of Mesa and had dumped tons of coal on the town's doorstep.
BNSF crews quickly cleared and restored the line and are expected to cut the wreckage into scrap on site. They will also clean up as much coal as possible while they investigate the cause of the accident.
It is actually a dusty blessing for the town, which is enjoying hungry workers on the job around the clock and buying up the only store's entire deli supply.
But anti-coal train groups pounced on the moment. They say imagine a derailment like this is in downtown Seattle or Mount Vernon. They warn plans for new coal export terminals in six Northwest locations would increase the likelihood of such an accident and would expose residents to traffic snarls and toxic coal dust with each passing train.
Backers of the terminals say such derailments are rare in cities where trains slow down and the terminals will provide badly needed jobs and tax income.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Gus Melonas said some priority trains would be able to roll through the area Tuesday afternoon on a siding, and the main line should reopen to all traffic by 8 p.m. Tuesday. About 30 trains a day travel through the area, including a Portland-Chicago Amtrak.