Approximately 20 cars involved in Burlington Northern Santa Fe in Burlington Township

Photo by Drew Daggett
A major train derailment took place in Burlington Township in rural Frazee on Thursday. The derailment included approximately 20 cars.

By Barbie Porter

Editor 

There were no injuries in a train derailment in rural Frazee on Thursday, Feb. 17. At 8:51 a.m., an east bound train derailed and caused a train on the west bound track to derail as well.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailment happened near the intersection of Indy 500 Road and Valley View Road, about two miles west of town in Burlington Township. 

Frazee resident Drew Daggett was flying in a Piper airplane over the crash site on Thursday. He provided pictures for the newspaper, which indicate more than 20 train cars involved in the crash. 

The Becker County Sheriff’s Office provided a press release  stating, “some of the products on the train were considered hazardous, but were not compromised. As a precaution, several residents in the area were evacuated until the incident could be assessed by emergency personnel and BNSF responders.”

Lois Moe was one of those residents who were evacuated. She arrived home about 12 p.m. and a sheriff’s deputy informed her of the derailment and possible hazards. She provided the deputy with her phone number and evacuated as directed. 

By 8 p.m. she still had not received a call stating she could return to her residence. She drove to her residence and asked the sheriff deputy if she could pick up some items, and asked how much longer they expected the evacuation order to be in place.

“They said they hoped a couple hours. I was able to enter and get my medications. I was in contact with neighbors and that’s how I found out we could go back.” 

Frazee resident Lois Moe about evacuating her home during the derailment

There were no evacuation orders given to residents in the city of Frazee.

BNSF representative Lydia Underdahl said the items in the train cars were mostly consumer products, such as TVs, batteries, paint and so forth. She explained some items could be potentially hazardous, but nothing that would need to be contained, such as oil.

She also stated the reason for the derailment is not known at this time, and the investigation may take a few weeks. 

Underdahl confirmed the reports that one of the two trains involved was stationary. She said when the moving train derailed, the train cars had contact with the stationary train and that resulted in some of those train cars leaving the tracks as well.  

During the Friday morning phone interview, Underdahl directed further questions be sent to her email. She was asked where the trains in the incident originated and where they were heading; how many train cars were being pulled by the train that derailed; what the protocols were in place for a derailment and how such incidents are investigated. There was no response by press time.

While the Frazee Fire Department has extensive training when it comes to structure and grass fires, Frazee Fire Chief Nathan Matejka noted train derailments are a unique and unusual occurrence.

“I’ve been on the (Frazee) fire department for 18 years, and there were a couple of (train) engines on fire, but no derailments in Frazee. There were some in Perham and Detroit Lakes though.”

Nathan Matejka, Frazee Fire Chief

While unusual, that does not mean the Frazee firefighters didn’t know exactly what to do. Matejka said the original call he received stated it was a “possible train derailment.” Thinking a train car came off the track, he rushed to the scene. Upon arrival he said he saw “a giant mess.” 

His first course of action was to look for the train conductor, to ensure the individual was not injured and then to review the train manifest that states the contents of each train car. The firefighters also checked on nearby residences to ensure there were no residents injured or houses impacted by the derailment.

Firefighters utilized gadgets, such as gas monitors, to check the area. They also listened for hisses or smelled for potential gas leaks. Matejka said when they were confident there were no concerns, a discussion with the railroad officials took place. Matejka and the fire fighters returned to the fire hall around 1 p.m. where a command center had been set-up. All hands remained on deck to be ready in a moment’s notice, should they be needed. 

Law enforcement remained on scene to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the road adjacent to the tracks, as well as enforce the evacuation order that was still in place as a precautionary measure.

“Everyone who was there did an awesome job,” Matejka said, adding there was great cooperation between the first responders.

He added the fire department will be in contact with the railroad to request additional training opportunities they may offer.

“We all learned a lot on scene,” Matejka said. 

The Frazee Fire Department, Frazee Police Department, Frazee Rescue, Essentia-St. Mary’s EMS, State Patrol, Detroit Lakes Police Department, Becker County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota State Fire Marshal responded to the train derailment.