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Union Pacific Dodges A Bullet

March 21, 2014

Driving home from a job this afternoon I heard the Glidden sub dispatcher answer an emergency call  on the radio. The QEWWC-21 was reporting a derailment of its train. The QEWWC is the daily quality manifest between Houston and West Colton. It’s frequently a key train due to the amount/type of hazmat that it carries. It was a key train today. Right off the bat, the crew reported the poison cars in their train being OK.

The derailment occurred  3/21/2014, about 5 PM,  near MP 32 on Union Pacific’s Glidden sub. This would be about a mile east of the Brazos River bridge, between Sugar Land and Rosenberg. Needless to say, had the train continued through the Brazos River bridge with a derailed car, it could have been a major derailment, even potentially disastrous.

Here’s what I’ve learned. UP 6920, the QEWWC-21 was stopped by the hot box detector at MP 30.5. The head end was stopped at MP 32.3.

Upon walking the train, the conductor discovered a derailed DOWX tank car 30 cars from the head end. Fortunately, everything was upright and the train didn’t lose its air.  The conductor applied tempilstik to the journals of the derailed truck and reported that it vaporized instantly, signifying an extremely hot journal.

There was talk about pulling the train westward, cutting away from the tank car. They would then pull the east part of the train away with the DPU’s, isolating the derailed car so a boom truck can hi-rail in to affect repairs. But the DS told the crew to not move anything until UP managers arrived.

As I had  some free time, I drove out Hwy 90 to see what was going on. This was the scene at 6:44 PM when I arrived.

The DPU’s were stopped just east of the FM 359 grade crossing. It’s the last grade crossing before the Brazos River bridge.

(I’m now making all images 1200 pixels wide. Click on any image for a larger version.)


Looking west from FM 359 toward the derailed car, you can see how the brush becomes very thick. That, along with the curve of the track prevented me from seeing much.


Driving west a bit, I was able to see the head end from the parking lot of a little Mexican restaurant. Like I said, the brush is pretty thick along here.



I drove to the back parking lot of a Goodyear store and was rewarded with these views of the offending tank car. Did I mention the heavy brush along the right of way?



At this point, the decision was made to take the crew to the DPU’s and have them cut away all of the cars east of the derailed car and drag them to Harlem siding.

Here the DPU’s are passing through the detector at MP 30.5. Is there an award for unsung heroes? If so, I nominate this detector.


The conductor protects the point as they enter Harlem siding. The dispatcher did order a limo for the crew so they could go get some dinner.


As I started heading back home, a convoy of  vehicles arrived with two sidebooms to clear a path to the scene and lift the tank car so repairs could be made.

Maybe the driver missed the sign, or maybe it doesn’t apply to Union Pacific vendors?


Assembling the sidebooms for the task at hand.


UP managers waiting to get the show on the road…


If you’ve made it this far, here’s the latest info I can share. The train was re-assembled at 10:47 PM. Patch crews galore are deadheading from San Antonio to relieve all  of the UP crews that will hog out account of the 6 hour shut-down of this key stretch of main line. A 25mph slow order is in effect between MP 31.35 and MP 31.80.

The preliminary cause of the derailment was slag build-up on the wheels of  one truck of the DOWX tank car. The derailed car also caused a broken rail at the FM 359 grade crossing.

Last, but not least, this incident illustrates why railroads place detectors (hi/wide load, dragging equipment, and hot box) several miles on each side of all truss brides.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2014 6:07 am

    Thanks for the info Robert! Maybe Rosenberg will be an extra active spot to railfan today?

    • March 22, 2014 10:08 am

      It might be, but remember that North/South BNSF traffic at Rosenberg wasn’t affected, so the recovery time won’t be too long.

  2. Christopher P. permalink
    March 23, 2014 11:12 pm


    I was in Rosenberg when the train hit the ground and heard a lot of the preliminary conversation. I went and checked out the scene, and ended up leaving probably shortly before you arrived.
    There was one important key here you may not have heard. Apparently, after the QEWWC got a hotbox at the 30.5 Detector, the crew began slowing the train to a stop. There was a UP Track Inspector nearby that was giving them a roll-by as they were slowing. As to why he was there, I never heard. But as the train dragged past him, the Track Inspector noticed the axle on the ground and alerted the crew, getting them to stop the train with more haste, but but they didn’t go into emergency. Because of the alert, the crew stopped the train sooner than they had originally planned, which is why the DPU’s were blocking the FM 359 crossing. The crew stated that they had intended to drag the train past the crossing and then stop. However the derailment changed their plans.
    From conversation afterwards, the Track Inspector and some other MOW guys that arrived quickly estimated the the POD (Point-of Derailment) was at MP 31, only a half mile past the detector. The detector picked up that the axle was hot right before it jumped the tracks.
    Also, the crew made sure to tell the Track Inspector how thankful and lucky they were that he was there. If they had made it onto the Bridge with that Poison car and an axle on the ground, “It wouldn’t have been pretty”.

    I left around 6:15 or so since it was mostly waiting around at that point (And I had things to do), so I missed some of the clean-up stuff. I’m glad you caught it. I also heard talk of dragging the front half of the train towards Rosenberg while they got the derailed tank car back on the tracks. Did they do that? Or did they just leave the front half where it was?


  3. GeorgeG permalink
    August 10, 2016 8:36 pm

    Were you living in the area when there was a head-on at West Junction? Memory is a bit foggy, but it was probably about 15-20 years ago. May have been right after UP took over the SP and there was congestion everywhere.

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