Train derails in De Soto near Mississippi River, several cars off track

The Crawford County Sheriff’s Office stated in a Facebook post that there was no need for evacuation.
A train derailment Thursday afternoon near De Soto sent two rail cars into the Mississippi River and several more to topple on the shoreline.
Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 2:05 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 27, 2023 at 10:38 PM CDT
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FERRYVILLE, Wis. (WMTV) - A train derailment Thursday afternoon near De Soto sent two rail cars into the Mississippi River and several more to topple on the shoreline.

BNSF General Director of Public Affairs Lena Kent stated that the train derailed around 12:15 pm. near De Soto, which is about 30 miles south of La Crosse. Kent explained that two of the three locomotives and an unknown number of cars derailed. The train was pulling “freight of all kinds.”

In an update sent around 4:30 p.m., Kent noted that two containers fell into the Mississippi River, neither of which contained any hazardous materials. During a news conference Thursday evening, Director of Emergency Management for Crawford County Jim Hackett said boat crews secured the containers to the bank, halting them from traveling any further south down the river.

Hackett noted that Vernon County’s hazmat team and BNSF hazmat team members were working together to monitor the cargo being carried on the overturned cars, which included batteries, paint and oxygen containers. The containers that were in the river were holding paint, which Hackett said was nonhazardous. No lithium ion batteries entered the river. Brandon Larson, the Director of Vernon Emergency Management and Vernon County’s hazmat team, explained that lithium ion batteries mixed with water could cause a reaction, but it was not a concern currently.

The cause is under investigation.

Containers that derailed on shore had paint and lithium-ion batteries inside, which hazmat teams are monitoring. Booms, which are barriers put up to reduce the possibility of pollution, were being placed in the area affected by the derailment, with Hackett noting there was some diesel fuel that they are working to remove. Kent explained that the volumes of the spill do not pose any risk to the river or nearby community.

BNSF crews were working to clean up the cars and build access points to get the cars out of the area. Hackett praised the collaboration between an estimated 20-30 agencies and the community’s response to the incident.

“I think that this community’s response is something that should be noted during this,” Hackett said. “My thoughts are we are very blessed to have the response we had. There is nobody hurt, there is no environmental hazards, everything that could’ve happened right did.”

De Soto Fire Chief Chris Mussatti, explained how rocks were being brought from area quarries to create a platform to move the derailed cars. Crews are expected to work through the night. He also acknowledged the crew’s response, saying it can be tough to have enough man power when so many agencies are volunteer-based, but that their training prepares them for moments like these.

The cause of a Wisconsin train derailment is unknown at this time
The cause of a Wisconsin train derailment is unknown at this time(NBC15)

“They worked really well together,” Mussatti said. “They do all the departments responded quickly and did what they were supposed to do, we trained of best we can. Lack of man power during the day hurts a little bit but as long as we can pull the departments and get them together we have numbers to work with.”

The main track is blocked in both directions and there is no estimate on when the track will be reopened, Kent said. The cause of the derailment is under investigation and there was no estimate on when it would be determined.

Hackett said four people were taken to receive a medical evaluation. There were no fatalities reported, according to WisDOT.

The Crawford County Sheriff’s Office stated in a Facebook post that there was no need for evacuation. State Highway 35 from State Highway 171 to State Highway 82 in De Soto was closed. Local traffic is permitted to go to Ferryville, according to the post.

Ferryville resident Bob Bowker said he heard the crash from over a mile away and jumped on his four-wheeler to see what had happened.

“So then I come up here to see what’s going on and this is what you see. A nasty mess,” Bowker said. “There’s like 13 or 14 cars off the track.”

A spokesperson for National Transportation Safety Board said the agency is not opening an investigation at this time. NTSB is aware of the crash and is monitoring the situation.

WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson was at the site of the wreck and said the agency’s immediate concern is the safety of those involved and the surrounding area.

“WisDOT is working diligently to ensure that traffic is diverted to safe roads and bridges while we thoroughly evaluate this event,” Thompson said.

The transportation department reports the WIS 82 bridge has been closed since Tuesday due to high water. The agency will inspect the bridge for any possible damage.

Gov. Tony Evers tweeted around 3:30 p.m. that he has been briefed about the train derailment and was reaching out to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker to keep them updated.

U.S. Rep Derrick Van Orden released a statement on the reported train derailment in Ferryville, saying his team was told that the incident happened south of the Lansing Bridge.

“We have begun to coordinate with BNSF, FEMA, Wisconsin Emergency Management, the state and national Departments of Transportation, Crawford County officials, and Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (IA-2), whose District may also be impacted, to get answers on what occurred,” Van Orden said.

Van Orden is on the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and said U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls (TX-22), who is the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Rail, has also made his staff available to assist.

The train was pulling “freight of all kinds.”

An alert around 12:15 p.m. from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation noted all lanes of WIS 82 eastbound at WIS 35 northbound and southbound was blocked in both directions near Ferryville. The alert said the road closures was “due to an incident.” This closure was still in effect at 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

WisDOT provided an alternate route for motorists:

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