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Repairs continue on Central California rail line damaged by freight train fire

February 22, 2010 |  3:11 pm

Crews worked Monday to repair the Union Pacific rail line damaged in Central California when a fire sparked by a freight train derailment halted some freight in its tracks and forced the rerouting of other trains.

The accident occurred about 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the entrance to a tunnel on the Tehachapi Loop south of Keene. A tanker car filled with denatured alcohol burst into flames, producing a black column of toxic smoke, according to the Kern County Fire Department. No injuries were reported.

The alcohol fire was allowed to burn through the night in the tunnel, but it spread to at least two other cars, one containing polystyrene plastic pellets and the other full of corn meal.

The fire grew into a stubborn blaze that firefighters battled until late Sunday when the tankers were extinguished, said Capt. Brandon Smith of the Kern County Fire Department. A fire patrol remained on site Monday as a safety precaution and to deal with the few remaining smoldering objects, Smith said.

The train owned by BNSF railway had been traveling from Barstow to Stockton on Union Pacific tracks, officials said. Because of the crash, BNSF was unable to move some freight through the area. The blockage  backed up 44 BNSF trains, said company spokeswoman Lena Kent.

She said the rail repairs could be completed as early as Monday night.

The company would not disclose financial losses associated with the fire, Kent said. The railroad is rerouting most traffic from Roseville, Colton and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach onto its coastal line, Hunt said.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said the cause of the derailment had not been determined.

“We inspect our tracks every day, and derailments can be caused by a number of factors," he said. "You can have a track problem, some kind of a minor crack in the rail, or a problem with a wheel on a locomotive. But we don’t have any idea yet.”

-- Amina Khan