PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Thursday released a report containing new information about the Union Pacific train derailment that damaged a portion of the Salt River Union Pacific Bridge in Tempe exactly one year ago Thursday.
The derailment happened when a westbound Union Pacific Railroad freight train traveled over Tempe's Salt River just after 6 a.m. on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. The accident sparked a massive fire on the bridge.
It was the second derailment in that area of tracks in less than a month. And although the first derailment didn’t draw too much attention at the time, the second derailment caused extensive damage and closed the bridge for repairs.
The FBI ruled out foul play in the initial NTSB preliminary report released in September, 2020.
Thursday's release included toxicology reports on Union Pacific employees, including the train engineer, conductor and brakeman. Those tests showed nothing abnormal. Union Pacific officials acknowledge disrepair as the cause behind the July 2020 derailment. “We determined that the cause was a wide gauge due to the ties and fasteners in that location at POD [point of derailment] being in disrepair,” Union Pacific officials said.
The report also shows what steps Union Pacific took to repair the damaged tracks after the first derailment in the same area. The report states the first incident, on June 2020, was found to be caused by a “wide gauge” condition of the tracks. The report also noted that during bridge inspections dating back to 2016 the south end of the Tempe’s Salt River bridge had a missing component, an inner guardrail that is supposed to begin prior to the bridge and continue along the bridge structure’s tracks in order to add stability for railroad cars. The report shows that the railroad ties used on either side of the bridge were also undersized.
Deeper into the report, Union Pacific’s Director of Track Maintenance acknowledges that he was aware of more bridges in their operations area that are not equipped with an inner guardrail. The report also reveals a lack of communications between departments that inspect the tracks and their counterpart bridge inspectors.
City of Tempe officials say some repair work continues on City property in the area that was damaged by the incident. They continue to work with Union Pacific officials to ensure that all repairs of city property and infrastructure are made, and that the city is completely reimbursed. According to city estimates, a reimbursement will be sought of approximately $482,000 from Union Pacific Railroad.
Thursday’s NTSB report drew no conclusions about the specific cause of the accident. The NTSB will put a final report out later that will include they analysis into the probable cause and findings.
"Union Pacific understands the impact this incident had on the local community. We are working with the City of Tempe to restore the area surrounding the impact site. Initial mitigation efforts following the incident were successful in eliminating contaminants of concern. Nonetheless, Union Pacific continues to work closely with the City of Tempe and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality as further site assessments and monitoring are conducted," says Union Pacific Manager II Communications of Robynn Tysver. Tysver says the cause remains under investigation.