A Wisconsin & Southern Railroad train derailed approximately two miles east of the Village of Wauzeka on Tuesday, May 17 at 8:34 p.m.
The 100-car westbound train was carrying corn on a Wisconsin & Southern rail line headed to Prairie du Chien, where the train would be taken further by a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe crew.
Just east of Wauzeka, the train derailed due to “a sun kink” in the rail, according to Wisconsin & Southern spokesperson Ken Lucht. He explained a sun kink in the rail is caused by expansion and contraction coming out of winter.
The rail softened and the steel buckled under the weight of the train, which was only traveling 10 mph, according to Lucht. Seven cars, including five loaded with corn, tipped.
An estimated 150-200 tons of corn spilled onto the ground and riverbank, according to the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department. The DNR was contacted to determine any hazard to the Wisconsin River. It was determined that the corn posed no threat to humans or wildlife.
Lucht confirmed there was no hazardous material involved. The Wisconsin & Southern spokesperson noted the rail in a stretch from Prairie du Chien to Madison is “old and tired.” Much of it is over 100 years old.
Wisconsin & Southern is working with the state to replace the rail. Phase One in the rail replacement process will involve rail from Prairie du Chien to Wauzeka. The railroad company is working with the state to get that done.
Lucht said the company hopes the work can begin this year. Phase Two will involve replacing rail from Wauzeka to Boscobel. Final phases will replace the remaining rail from Boscobel to Madison.
While the land is owned by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a co-operative of the DOT (80-percenr) and the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission (20 percent) are responsible for the management of the property and leases, like the one with Wisconsin & Southern.
The expenses of any capital improvements (ties, rails and bridges) are shared jointly by the WDOT and Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, Lucht explained.
Through previous work, 9,000 ties have been replaced between Boscobel and Prairie du Chien, the railroad company spokesperson noted. At this point, “the two wild cards” for the stretch between Madison and Prairie du Chien are the bridges and the rails, according to Lucht. The company hopes all of the rail is replaced within five years.
The stretch of rail was not used as much previously, but traffic at Prairie du Chien has increased 450 percent for Wisconsin & Southern in the past 10 years. The traffic is being driven by grain along the river in Prairie du Chien, but also by grain facilities like ADM in Boscobel and Riverdale Ag in Muscoda.
In addition to grain, Wisconsin & Southern hauls “a lot of plastic, lumber, sand and aggregate rock,” according to Lucht. However the railroad company does not haul “one drop of crude of oil, not one drop.”
The company does haul chemicals, propane, ethanol and gasoline, but it’s a very small part of the business, the spokesperson explained. However, no hazardous materials are hauled on the Prairie du Chien section of track. The company does operate on 500 other miles of track.