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BNSF seeks cause of derailment

A train heads north as BNSF Railway crews work to remove cars that derailed and toppled onto shore Saturday near Chambers Bay golf course in University Place. The accident sent four tankers filled with sodium hydroxide onto the beach, and about 50 gallons of the chemical - also known as lye - spilled out.
A train heads north as BNSF Railway crews work to remove cars that derailed and toppled onto shore Saturday near Chambers Bay golf course in University Place. The accident sent four tankers filled with sodium hydroxide onto the beach, and about 50 gallons of the chemical - also known as lye - spilled out. The Olympian

Determining the cause of the derailment that sent 15 rail cars off the tracks below Chambers Bay golf course on Saturday might take up to a week, a BNSF spokesman said Monday.

Company investigators are looking at everything, from rails and car wheels to weather and train handling, spokesman Gus Melonas said. He declined to speculate on a cause until all the information is in.

The accident sent four tankers loaded with sodium hydroxide, or lye, tumbling onto the beach. Less than 50 gallons of lye spilled from one of the tankers. All four were later emptied by BNSF crews.

With one exception, Pierce County’s popular Chambers Creek Properties returned to normal operations Monday, according to the county’s Public Works Department.

For public safety reasons, the Bridge to the Beach will remain closed while BNSF works in the area to recover and repair the train cars and tracks damaged in the derailment.

The rest of the facilities at Chambers Creek Properties are open to the public: the golf course, Chambers Bay Grill, the Soundview and Grandview trails, and the off-leash dog area.

Whatever caused the derailment, BNSF quickly cleaned up the mess.

By 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the northbound track had been cut away and replaced; by 11:30 p.m. the soundbound track was replaced. The derailed cars were moved out of the way.

“We’re back to normal,” Melonas said Monday.

Normal means the 60 trains, both freight and Amtrak, that use the tracks daily in both directions through Tacoma.

“That was an amazing job done by BNSF,” said Capt. Ron Music, the duty officer aboard the Anderson Island Fire Department boat, Guardian One, that was called to the scene Saturday night.

His boat crew was alerted shortly after the 8:30 p.m. derailment.

Using an infrared camera, crew members spotted four tanker cars on the beach and passed that information on to firefighters on land.

Melonas estimated about 100 local, state and BNSF crewmen responded to the accident.

“We appreciated the regional response and all the agencies that assisted in protecting the environment,” he said.

Complete cleanup of the site will take at least three weeks, he added.

Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692 mike.archbold@thenewstribune.com

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