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Train Derails in Northwest Iowa

Courtesy of Sioux County Sheriffs Office
An estimated 20 cars fell into the Floyd River after a Union Pacific Train derailed Sunday.

Cleanup has started in northwest Iowa after a train carrying sand and soybean oil derailed Sunday on a bridge over the Floyd River.
Transport company Union Pacific is working to remove an estimated 20 cars from the river near the city of Alton in Sioux County at the scene of a collapsed bridge, after nearly 40 cars derailed Sunday. The company is coordinating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Iowa Department of Natural Resources to clean up soybean oil and sand that released into the river.

Union Pacific spokesman Justin Jacobs said the site is under investigation. It is unclear if the bridge collapsed before the train derailed, or during the derailment. No hazardous materials were on board.

They are also looking into if flooding from over the weekend was a factor in the derailment. 

“We are keeping that all in mind,” Jacobs said, “and occasionally when things like this happen – incidents like this – Mother Nature plays a part in it.” 

The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls says the Floyd River at Alton crested at a new record high level of 22 feet this past weekend, exceeding the previous record of 20.5 feet in June 2018, said Service Hydrologist Mike Gillispie.

“There was a lot of flooding down there,” Gillispie said. “A lot of county roads, even some state roads closed…lots of agricultural land, lots of crop land flooded, so it’s a very significant flood.”

The city of Alton has not suffered any damage from the derailment, but officials are working to keep people away from the scene. The city closed some of its roads over the weekend due to flooding, including its main road, 3rd Ave., which runs parallel to the railroad tracks, said Alton City Administrator Dale Oltmans.

“Until that gets repaired, we’re going to keep that closed,” Oltmans said. “We’re just maintaining security so people are not walking into the area.”

Union Pacific has deployed barriers to contain the derailment site, Jacobs said. They're using boats, a vacuum truck and other response equipment to clean up the site. 

There were no injuries reported at the derailment site, according to the Sioux  County Sheriff’s Office.

This post has been updated.

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Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.