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Federal investigators said crew fatigue may have contributed to the derailment of a BNSF freight train that spilled more than 20,000 gallons of ethanol last year in western Wisconsin.
The engineer and the conductor scored poorly on the Federal Railroad Administration’s fatigue analysis tool, even though they each had more than 13 hours of rest prior to beginning their shift at 1 a.m. on Nov. 17, 2015.
The derailment occurred nearly eight hours later.
Both employees passed alcohol and drug screenings.
A report released this week said the engineer violated railroad guidelines by applying the brakes too suddenly, causing 25 cars to jump the tracks near Alma, Wisconsin. Braking rapidly can cause momentum at the rear of a train, which can push cars off the track, the La Crosse Tribune reported.
According to the report, the freight train was traveling at 26 mph when it derailed, and was previously slowed from 54 mph. The maximum speed limit on the track where the incident occurred is 60 mph and the train was restricted to 55 mph, according to the FRA report.
The administration also determined the layout of the more than 100-car train, which had heavily-loaded cars behind dozens of lighter and empty cars, contributed to the derailment.
The FRA characterized the incident as poor handling. Spokesman Marc Willis said the agency didn’t fine the railroad because the engineer did not violate any federal regulations.
BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said as a result of the incident the engineer is no longer employed with the company.
No injuries were reported in the incident which caused about $2.1 million damage to rail equipment.
The derailment was one of several rail accidents last winter in Wisconsin and Minnesota.