Cleanup underway following derailment that sent cars into flooded Mississippi River

2 locomotives and 10 railcars jumped the track, investigation into cause underway

A freight train derailed in Ferryville.
A BNSF Railway freight train derailed in Ferryville, Wis. in Crawford County on April 27, 2023, sending multiple cars into the Mississippi River. Photo courtesy of Austin Miller

Cleanup work is underway in the western Wisconsin Village of De Soto after a train derailment sent boxcars floating down the flooded Mississippi River Thursday. Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad said the cars have been recovered and the derailment remains under investigation.

A statement from Lena Kent, BNSF Railway’s general director of public affairs, said two of the three locomotives and 10 cars “carrying freight of all kinds” jumped the rails that are currently flanked by the swollen Mississippi River on both sides.

“Two containers went into the Mississippi River; neither contained hazardous materials,” Taylor said. “Some of the containers derailed on shore contained paint and lithium-ion batteries.”

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The two containers that ended up in the Mississippi River floated downriver, according to a statement from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

“WisDOT staff tracked rail cars that floated downstream soon after the derailment and passed under the WIS 82/Lansing Causeway before becoming mired along shore.”

Among all the derailed cars, BNSF and local responders said they contained paint, oxygen and lithium-ion batteries.

Taylor said a containment boom has been placed on the water near the derailment as a precaution aimed at collecting diesel fuel or any other hazardous materials that may have leaked from the site, “but the volumes involved don’t pose a risk to the river or nearby communities.”

“The main track remains blocked in both directions and an estimated time for reopening the track is pending,” Taylor said. “The cause of the incident remains under investigation.”

On Thursday, the Federal Railroad Administration tweeted it had sent safety personnel to the scene “to gather information and support local efforts as needed.”

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Crawford County Emergency Management Specialist Marc Myhre said four railway workers were transported to area hospitals following the derailment.

During the past week, the Mississippi River has swelled with water from rapidly melting snow upriver and recent precipitation. It crested Thursday at around 16 feet. According to the National Weather Service, major flood stage is anything above 15.5 feet. Nine counties along the Mississippi River were under flood warnings as of Thursday morning.

De Soto emergency management officials, Thursday, said it’s unclear whether flooding contributed to the derailment. Aerial photos of the scene, taken Thursday, show water on both sides of the tracks.

The water has been receding and was at 15.48 feet as of 11:15 a.m., according to the NWS river gauge at La Crosse.