Cascade & Columbia train derails near Riverside

A view of the five cars that derailed the afternoon of Monday, March 14 on the Cascade & Columbia River Railroad. Katie Teachout/staff photos
A view of the five cars that derailed the afternoon of Monday, March 14 on the Cascade & Columbia River Railroad. Katie Teachout/staff photos

RIVERSIDE – A Cascade & Columbia River Railroad (C&CRRR) train with 52-cars and two locomotives derailed about two and a half miles north of Riverside Monday, March 14 around 3:30 p.m. The train was only traveling about nine mph when it derailed, according to Okanogan County Emergency Management (OCEM).

The train was traveling south after picking up lumber in Oroville and calcium carbonate at the Janis Bridge rail site four miles south of Tonasket. The five cars that derailed were carrying the Calcium Carbonate, a non-hazardous neutral white rock mined near Wauconda.

“I got the call shortly before 4 p.m.,” said OCEM Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall. “The train was going down the track when the engineer said he felt kind of a bump. When you’re under power, it’s a bit of an issue to feel a bump, so he stopped and got out and saw that the five cars had derailed. There’s a lot of mud and water there; the ground just basically liquified under the track. It was not a sinkhole; just a mud hole, and with the pressure of the cars bumping down the track, they sunk in and displaced the mud.”

Goodall said he thought it would be about two weeks before the wreck was cleaned up.

“The railroad company is working to get repairs done and get everything out of there. I would venture to say the rock they were hauling is good rock to build up that area right there, rather than spend all the money and effort to haul it out of there,” Goodall said. “But it’s up to the company, it is all their gig.”

Derailment investigators from C&CRRR were on their way to the scene from Salem Tuesday afternoon (March 15) as this paper went to press.

“All I can say is that there were no injuries and no hazmat involved. It is still under active investigation,” said Anthony Foster, a C&CRRR employee who was at the scene Tuesday morning (March 15).

Roger Sawyer, a contractor who works with Columbia River Carbonates (CRC), a supplier of calcium carbonate that owns the Wauconda Quarry, said 500 tons of the rock was spilled. The rail cars, leased by CRC, were on their way to Wenatchee with the company’s production facility in Woodland, Washington (near Portland, Oregon) their final destination.

“The rock has tremendous usage,” said Sawyer. “We use it primarily in the paper industry, but it is also used in paint, window glass and in water purification plants.”

Sawyer said he wanted to assure the public the calcium carbonate is a completely non-hazardous substance.

“You probably couldn’t find a more neutral rock,” Sawyer said.

The CRC quarry in Wauconda is located about halfway between Tonasket and Republic. According to the company’s website, the Wauconda quarry has mineral reserves projected to last more than 200 years.

Another view of the derailed train cars which were carrying calcium carbonate.

Railroad crews examine the trucks on one of the derailed cars.