Tracks expected to reopen today after derailment

STEILACOOM - A freight train derailed early Thursday, halting passenger train traffic on both sets of tracks on the BNSF Railway main line and blocking access to a ferry terminal south of Tacoma.

BNSF expected to reopen one of the two blocked rail lines late in the day today, and it was not clear how soon the second line would reopen, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said.

Passengers on some canceled trains were being bused from Seattle to Portland, while Amtrak was using buses between Eugene, Ore., and Seattle for its Los Angeles-Seattle route, the company said.

Railroad crews got one of the 13 derailed cars back on the track by midday Thursday, were working to get a second car placed on the track in the afternoon, and planned to haul away the remaining 11 cars later in the day and today, Melonas said.

Crews reopened the road leading to the dock used by ferries between the mainland and McNeil, Anderson and Ketron islands, Melonas said.

Normal ferry operations resumed shortly before 9 a.m., officials said.

Guards and other prison workers who showed up for the 6 a.m. run to McNeil Island were bused to a nearby marina then taken to the island in a Corrections Department passenger boat, said Chad Lewis, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.

Some inmate transfers were postponed, visitation was canceled and supply barge service was suspended. Lewis said the island had ample reserves of food, goods and supplies.

A Corrections Department boat took Special Commitment Center employees to the island before normal ferry operations resumed, said Steve Williams, a spokesman for the Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the center for sex offenders who have already served their prison terms but are deemed likely to reoffend.

Pierce County, which runs ferry service from Steilacoom to Anderson and Ketron islands, offered two passenger-only sailings early Thursday, later opening ferry service to vehicles, said Toby Rickman, spokesman for the county's public works and utilities department.

Commercial vehicles were barred from ferries until crews fully repair damage to the road caused when the derailed cars were cleared away, Rickman said.

A 95-car freight train with four locomotives was going less than 45 mph when 13 cars jumped the tracks around 3 a.m. at a concrete block crossing on the road leading to the ferry terminal, Melonas said. No one was injured and the cause of the derailment was under investigation.

One of the derailed cars contained ethylene glycol, a component of antifreeze that is considered a hazardous substance, but remained upright and did not leak or pose any threat to the environment, Melonas said.

Emergency vessels in Puget Sound placed a containment boom around the area where the derailment occurred in case any contaminants spilled into the water, Melonas said.

The other cars carried mostly agricultural products, including wheat, soybeans and soybean oil.

The affected tracks carry 50 trains a day, including Amtrak and Union Pacific freight trains, and alternate routings for at least some of the freight traffic were being considered, Melonas said.