No accidents result from broken rail on BNSF tracks

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Last week, a Prairie du Chien police officer discovered a broken rail on the BNSF tracks running through Prairie du Chien. The section of rail was replaced within seven hours.

By Correne Martin

A broken rail was discovered late Tuesday night, Jan. 3, on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train tracks that run through the heart of Prairie du Chien.

According to the Prairie du Chien Police Department, at about 11:45 p.m., an officer observed a train pass through the city and, after passing, all railroad crossing arms remained down. Based on his previous training and experience, the officer investigated the tracks for broken rails and found a break near the Blackhawk Avenue crossing.

“Because [the officer] has 30 years experience, he recognized that there was a problem, drove down the tracks until he found a break in the rail and called dispatch, who contacted BNSF, which was already aware of [the issue],” Sgt. Kyle Teynor stated.

“Our signal system operates through the rail, so we had that indication as well,” confirmed Amy McBeth, BNSF director of public affairs. “Whenever there’s a break like that, it interrupts the signal and the arms remain down to assure the public’s safety. We are always very much appreciate when the public lets us know about incidents like this, but we did already have that signal and our system would’ve prevented a train from passing through there.”

BNSF crews responded to the scene and fixed the rail break. They cut a new piece of rail and put that in place.

“We have an inspection program through which we conduct routine inspections,” McBeth explained. “Extreme weather events result in additional inspections.”

The railroad arms remained down at several intersections during the repair process, until about 7 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 4.

Teynor noted that when the railroad arms stay down as they did, and cues of cars back up, local law enforcement work to direct traffic across the tracks if and where doing so is deemed safe or to the nearest alternate route.

“We also park squads on Wisconsin and Iowa,” Teynor said, to prevent wrong turns on those one-way streets. “No one should ever try to cross the tracks without some type of direction from the rail crews or law enforcement.”

“You never want to have people going around a down-gate. It’s just extremely dangerous and it’s illegal. I know it’s frustrating for people but it’s a safety issue,” McBeth added. “If they’re down, there’s a reason for it. It could be an issue with the rail, a train coming, maintenance, etc.”

During all incidents like this one, local dispatch also notifies emergency medical services such as Tri-State Ambulance and Marquette or McGregor police and ambulance that the railroad arms are down so they can take a different route as well.

“The reality is, we’re at the mercy of the railroad company,” Teynor said.

When asked the name of the officer who acted, possibly saving further danger from occurring, Teynor said it’s the department’s protocol not to release the name of the officer involved. However, he said the officer will be recognized internally.

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