Business, Finance & Economics

Train derailment forces evacuation of Illinois town

A train derailment forced the evacuation of a north-central Illinois town on Friday, with fears the ethanol aboard the train could cause a chemical explosion.

Residents of the 800-person town of Tiskilwa, 100 miles southwest of Chicago, were being told to stay away from their homes late Friday afternoon, Reuters reports. 

Twenty-six cars of the 131-car train derailed early Friday morning. Nine cars were carrying ethanol being, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Although authorities reported the fire under control since about 9:30 a.m., forefighters were worried that burning tanks of ethanol might split open and explode. 

Many of the town's residents were holing up inside the Indian Valley Inn restaurant, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The owner, Mike McComber, told the Tribune: "It's a mess. A quarter to a half mile of cars derailed. Many of them are on fire."

McComber added: "Every time one of them explodes, it sounds like a bomb is going off. Three have gone off so far."

The ethanol was reportedly being shipped by Decatur-based corn processor Archer Daniels Midland. Spokeswoman Jessie McKinney told the Tribune that the train included ADM railcars carrying ethanol and a type of dry animal feed.

Ethanol is the largest volume hazardous material transported by rail, Reuters reports, citing the Renewable Fuels Association.

While the shipment of ethanol by rail has increased dramatically, rail accidents involving hazardous materials have declined over the past 10 years.

Shipping ethanol has been made safer by a newer fleet of tank cars specifically designed to carry the material, the CSM quotes Chris Barkan, director of the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center at the University of Illinois at Champaign, as saying.

"There’s no question that ethanol traffic has increased due to the big demand for ethanol fuels. It doesn’t make it any more dangerous to transport ethanol," Barkan reportedly said.