A broken rail likely caused a train hauling 124 cars of coal to derail Sunday afternoon on a bridge over Interstate 25 north of Pueblo, killing a semitruck driver, federal investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.
The board’s preliminary assessment determined that the bridge collapsed after the train derailed, sending coal and mangled train cars across I-25 and closing the busy route between Pueblo and Colorado Springs. Thirty train cars derailed.
Investigators remained were at the scene Tuesday, trying to figure out what caused the broken rail and why warning systems did not alert crews, the NTSB said.
Federal investigators will also look at the adequacy of prior track inspections and the condition and maintenance history of the bridge. The federal agency will release its preliminary report within 30 days. A final report could take up to two years to be completed.
The broken rail was east of the bridge over I-25, the NTSB said.
Both northbound and southbound lanes of I-25 remained closed Tuesday as crews continued to clear debris from the road. BNSF expects cleanup to be completed by Wednesday, when CDOT engineers and maintenance crews will assess the damage and determine what repairs are needed to reopen the highway.
Drivers headed south are advised to use Colorado 115 until they reach Penrose, before heading east on U.S. 50 toward Pueblo. Northbound drivers can exit the interstate at U.S. 50 and go west, toward Pueblo West, then north on Purcell until they reach I-25, CDOT said.
There still remains confusion over who owns the bridge that collapsed and who was responsible for maintaining it. A spokesperson for BNSF, which operated the train that derailed and owns the line it runs on, told The Colorado Sun the state owns the bridge.
But Matt Inzeao, communications director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said state officials are still combing through documents, going back to the bridge’s construction in the late 50s, to determine who owns it.
“We have been working through some conflicting information thus far,” Inzeo said in an email. “We do not have access to the maintenance and inspection activity performed by BNSF for this bridge.”
Generally, CDOT’s inspection and maintenance focuses on bridges carrying cars and trucks “and only deals with railroad and utility bridges as needed,” Inzeo said.
It’s also unclear where the train was headed.
An Xcel Energy spokesperson said the coal was not en route to the Comanche power plant in Pueblo and will not affect the plant’s operations.
The Pueblo County Coroner’s Office identified the truck driver killed in the derailment as Lafollette Henderson, 60, of Compton, Calif.
None of the train’s crew were injured.