NTSB investigating after freight train carrying fuel derails near Arizona-New Mexico border

Written by on April 27, 2024

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(LUPTON, Ariz.) — Federal authorities are investigating after a freight train carrying fuel derailed near the Arizona-New Mexico border, igniting a large fire and prompting an evacuation and traffic closures.

A BNSF freight train derailed on Friday at 1:45 p.m. MT near Manuelito, New Mexico, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

“The preliminary information we have is the train derailed at least 22 cars including multiple propane tank cars,” the NTSB said in a statement on Saturday.

Two of the tank cars caught fire, the NTSB said. No injuries were reported, the agency said.

A team of NTSB investigators is en route to the scene and is expected to arrive later Saturday to begin documenting the scene and examining the train and equipment.

Investigators with the Federal Railroad Administration also responded to the derailment on Friday, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The train was carrying gasoline and non-odorous propane, according to New Mexico State Police. Heavy black smoke could be seen following the derailment as the train cars burned.

BNSF said in a statement Friday that its personnel were “working to clear the site as safely as possible.” The cause of the derailment is under investigation, the freight railroad said.

The derailment has caused traffic disruptions, forcing the temporary closure of part of Interstate 40 and the track. Amtrak has suspended service between Albuquerque and Los Angeles until the track reopens.

The Apache County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona, which was among the agencies that responded to the train derailment and fire, said the scene was being treated as a hazardous materials incident and an evacuation was expanded to within a two-mile radius of the event.

The evacuation order impacted parts of the Navajo Nation.

“Our deepest concern is for the safety and well-being of our citizens and those directly affected by this incident,” Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren said in a statement on Friday. “At this time, we urge everyone to stay clear of the affected area to allow emergency and hazmat teams to manage the situation efficiently.”

Nygren said local emergency crews had informed them there is a “low risk of immediate danger to the public,” though they are taking all necessary precautions, including evacuating several homes.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs said she is “deeply concerned” about the derailment.

“As we learn more about the situation on the ground, the State of Arizona stands ready to deploy the resources necessary to keep our communities safe,” Hobbs said on X Saturday.

Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego also called the train derailment “incredibly concerning.”

“As we gather more information on the severity of the derailment, I stand ready to work with our state partners, federal counterparts, and all Arizonans,” Gallego said in a statement on Friday.

Buttigieg said in a statement Friday night on X that the department is “coordinating across state, Tribal, and local agencies to ensure safety in the region.”

Michael Chupco was among several Amtrak passengers stranded in Albuquerque train station following the derailment. He told ABC Albuquerque affiliate KOAT that the next train he could get was on Monday.

“I’m stuck three days out here on the street,” Chupco told the station. “I’m 68 years old. I can’t handle living on the street.”

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