Train derails in Marquette

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A Canadian Pacific train derailed three sand cars in Marquette around noon on Aug. 23. Two riverfront crossings were blocked as a result of the derailment. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

No hazardous materials were involved in the incident, and no injuries were reported. CP has not yet released the cause of the derailment.

The derailment left around 40 people trapped on the riverfront for at least four hours.

CP officials graveled an open portion of the tracks, creating a temporary crossing so people stranded on the riverfront could leave. Heavy equipment was then utilized to right the derailed cars.

Crews worked into the night, using equipment to adjust the cars, then lift them back onto the track.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

In Marquette, trains blocking railroad crossings is a common occurrence, with wait times sometimes stretching 20 or 30 minutes—even up to an hour. However, on Thursday, Aug. 23, the community’s riverfront crossings were blocked for much of the day, as crews from Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) worked to clear a train derailment. 

According to CP, a train derailed three sand cars near the crossing under the Marquette-Joliet Bridge, between First and Water streets, around noon that day. No hazardous materials were involved in the incident, and no injuries were reported. 

At press time, CP had not yet released the cause of the derailment. 

Two crossings were blocked as a result of the derailment: the one under the bridge, which is most often used to access the riverfront and boat ramp, as well as another just north of there, across from the Cobblestone Inn and Suites. 

CP spokesman Andy Cummings said teams were immediately dispatched to respond to the site and begin removing the derailed equipment. 

They also helped determine how to get people stranded on the riverfront back across the railroad tracks. 

At the time of the derailment, Robert Vavra’s Maiden Voyage tour boat was cruising down the Mississippi River with 17 passengers aboard. Vavra’s wife, Deb, called to warn him of what they would discover when they returned to the Marquette marina. 

“I said, ‘Oh, boy,’” Vavra recalled. “If it gets to be so many hours, you have to have an answer for people who might have to stay here [another night]. You have to be able to get people out in a timely fashion.” 

Vavra said a few of his passengers had minor disabilities, making an extended wait potentially dangerous. But fire and rescue were notified of the situation and ready to help, if needed. 

He said Marquette mayor Steve Weipert even offered to shuttle people on his boat. 

“The city did a great job,” he added. “They were right on it.”

Vavra and his passengers weren’t the only ones stranded on the riverfront. Other boaters and fishermen were, too. 

“There were probably 40 people altogether,” Vavra estimated.

The three cars that derailed were located near the front of train, meaning much of the track in front of the dike was clear. Once the engine and first few cars were moved, CP officials brought in gravel and created a temporary crossing in that area.

Vavra said it was 4 p.m. by the time any traffic could leave the riverfront. 

By late afternoon, heavy equipment also began arriving from out of town to begin righting the derailed cars. Crews worked into the night, using equipment to adjust the cars, then lift them back onto the track. The rest of the train was also split from the derailed cars, eventually opening the crossings.

A portion of the dike was damaged during the removal process. Mayor Weipert said the railroad received permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dig into the dike, and has promised to fix it.

“That was the assurance the city got,” he said.

Weipert noted he was pleased with how CP handled the whole situation.

“I think the railroad acted very professionally,” he said. “They were on top of it from the beginning, and they kept the city constantly informed on what they were doing.”

“People have to realize this was an accident,” he added, “and you do the best you can.”

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