Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013 • Diesel spills into Feather River after train accident

Diesel fuel spilled into the Feather River after a BNSF Railway locomotive struck a boulder early Friday morning, Jan. 25, about 24 miles west of Quincy.

An environmental boom spans the Feather River at the bridge below the Rich Bar monument on Highway 70, about 23 miles from Quincy. The boom will absorb spilled diesel and prevent it from dispersing further into downstream water.

The accident was reported at 1:47 a.m. after the engine struck the rock as it was traveling between Rich Bar and Twain.

The rock punctured a diesel fuel tank on the lead locomotive, spilling fuel along the tracks and into the track ballast.

An estimated 3,200 to 3,700 gallons of diesel was released after the accident. Some of the fuel reached the river, creating a visible sheen on the water.

According to Plumas County Office of Emergency Services Director Jerry Sipe, the cleanup effort would be “a lengthy process” and likely would continue at least until the middle of this week.

Sipe said the incident did not pose a risk to public health.

Diesel fuel swirls on the surface of the Feather River about two miles below an estimated 3,200-gallon spill resulting from a BNSF Railway train engine hitting a rock and puncturing.

Drivers traveling last Friday on Highway 70 could notice a “pretty potent” smell from the fuel, according to Sipe.

“The smell of diesel is pretty strong to motorists in the serpentine canyon on Highway 70,” Sipe said in a press release issued Friday. “A petroleum sheen can be seen in various locations on the Feather River from the spill site to below Belden, a distance of seven or eight miles.”

A reporter who was shooting pictures at the scene said the odor was strong enough to cause a headache after a few minutes.

With the assistance of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. helicopter, booms were set up Friday in five locations on the river to help collect the fuel.

Sipe said booms were in place at Rock Creek dam, Little Indian Creek, Belden and Rich Bar, and also at the scene of the accident.

“We anticipate the booms and pads to be in place for many days,” Sipe said Monday.

The tracks where the spill occurred are about 90 feet above the river. Sipe said that means “there is a lot of gravity pushing the fuel down into the water.”

An incident command post was set up at Rich Bar. A consultant, NRC, is working with Union Pacific Corp., BNSF, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Although it was a BNSF locomotive that hit the rock, the stretch of track belongs to Union Pacific.

BNSF Railway spokesperson Lena Kent said the train had departed Vancouver, Wash., and was headed to Barstow.

Kent said there was no derailment, and the train resumed traveling at 5:45 a.m. on Friday.