It looked like a giant child had scattered his toys across the lawn.
Seventeen rail cars of a 97-car Union Pacific freight train derailed in a rural area along Substation Road between Rabe’s Lane and Rachel Lane near Steeleville on Thursday morning, sending concerns of a hazardous material leak through the area.
Those fears dissolved when the train crew told responding law enforcement that the double-stacked intermodal containers contained car parts and not hazardous material.
“The northbound train had two locomotives and was carrying intermodal containers, which are used to haul a variety of consumer products in containers that can be shipped by ocean liner, train or truck,” said Calli Hite, Director of Corporate Relations and Media for Union Pacific. “There were no injuries to the (train) crew or to the public, and no impacted roadways.
“The cause is under investigation.”
Hite said the train originated from Laredo, Texas, and was headed to Salem, Ill.
She did not have a determination when the rail line, which intersects with Broadway Street on the west side of Steeleville before winding its way through the town, would reopen.
The Steeleville Fire Department was paged to the scene, with the Chester Fire Department also responding to a mutual aid call for manpower.
The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, Steeleville Police Department and MedStar Ambulance were also among the agencies that responded.
“It’s considered hazardous material from the beginning until we can determine what was in the cars or was leaked or dropped on the ground,” said RCSO Chief Deputy Jarrod Peters. “It’s a group effort by all the agencies and the departments.
“The fire departments usually have their ducks in a row on that sort of thing.”
Peters said his office received the call at 8:54 a.m. and at 9:04 a.m., Union Pacific informed him about what was contained inside the rail cars.
The company is handling the investigation into the incident.
“In 10 minutes we knew what was on (the train) already,” Peters said.
Peters also gave credit to the firefighters for their handling of the situation. After the locomotives, the first four cars were still upright on the track, while the fifth and sixth cars were leaning off the rails.
An open stretch of track followed before a jumbled mess of cars were entwined in a grove of trees on both sides of the track.
The derailment appeared to be a violent one, with the knuckle coupler (which attaches rail cars to each other) broken off on several cars.
“We had firemen on scene who were relaying information to dispatch so they could relay that information to other responding agencies or agencies that were on standby,” Peters said.
Peters was asked what would happen if a hazardous material leak did occur.
“We would isolate the area, get people away from it until we know what the hazardous material was on board the train,” he said. “The fire department would take care of the scene to make sure it was being contained.”
When reached for comment, Randolph County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Mike Hoelscher said he did check into the situation and was advised of the train’s non-hazardous content.
“We are very thankful it didn’t turn into a major situation,” he said.