FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Federal officials say a train that derailed and caught fire in Fort Worth in 2019 was traveling on tracks that had been weakened by flooding after days of rain.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in an accident report released Thursday that the weakened track structure and washout from the rains, which flooded nearby Echo Lake, were the probable cause of the April 24, 2019 accident. Over two dozen of the Union Pacific train’s tank cars derailed and three were breached, leaking over 65,000 gallons of ethanol, which is highly flammable.
The report says contributing factors include deferred maintenance of spillways at Echo Lake and lack of “dynamic weather reporting” at Union Pacific.
Several homes were evacuated and at least three horses were killed when the flames spread to a nearby stable, officials have said.
The track structure had weakened during the flooding to a point where it couldn’t support the train, the report said.
The report says the city of Fort Worth owns the lake but that Tarrant County is responsible for storm water and drain repairs.
The report said the lake’s primary spillway included three drainage pipes, and at the time of the accident, one was functional, one was intentionally plugged due to damage and the third was blocked by debris.
Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South said they had “no reason to believe that the spillway at Echo Lake, which is not railroad property, was not being properly maintained.”
“Had it been, water would not have streamed over the tracks, causing a washout and subsequent derailment,” said South, who added that a flash food warning was issued after the derailment occurred.
The report notes that the city of Fort Worth told NTSB investigators last year that a contractor for Tarrant County had completed drainage improvements at the lake.
A message for comment from Tarrant County was not immediately returned.