Five cars of a westbound Union Pacific freight train derailed in downtown Colfax Sunday morning, causing around 100 businesses and residents to evacuate.
“We’re sitting there, and then we heard this loud noise,” said Colfax resident Michael Tanza.
“It sounded like explosions were going off outside, and it was shaking the house,” Tanza said.
Five cars derailed around 11 a.m. near the Amtrak train station, one of the most prominent features in the small Sierra Nevada foothills town, according to Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, simply referred to as CalFire.
“They don’t know what caused them to come off the tracks yet,” Tolmachoff said.
No injuries or damage to surrounding buildings was immediately reported, Tolmachoff said.
“It occurred on the wider part of the tracks,” Tolmachoff said. “It’s pretty amazing that right now it’s kind of lucky. We will wait and see how things progress.”
At least one train car was reported to be leaking a liquid that turned out to be non-hazardous. Prior to that determination, officials evacuated approximately 100 residences and businesses on Railroad, Main, South Auburn and Culver streets, Tolmachoff said.
“They didn’t jump off the tracks and pile up. They came off the tracks, and one tank came off and spilled,” Tanza said. “One is parked in a bank parking lot.”
The evacuation was lifted by 3:10 p.m., Tolmachoff reported. Colfax High Gymnasium was established as the evacuation center and evacuees were being supported by the Red Cross.
Placer County’s Central Region HazMat was called in to examine the liquid, as well as representatives from the area’s environmental health agency, Tolmachoff said.
“There is no damage to anything,” Tanza said. “It was pretty much contained.”
Colfax is located just south of Grass Valley and halfway between Sacramento and Reno.
No word on whether or not any passenger trains schedules are affected. Calls to Union Pacific were not immediately returned to The Union.
While one passenger, who identified herself in an email as Mary Woodward bound for New York by way of Chicago, reported an anticipated delay of at least seven hours, other travelers also reported being routed by bus. Tolmachoff indicated it would be at least 17-24 hours until the tracks were cleared.
“I know they’re working diligently to clean it up, and this train will get through. We just don’t know when,” said Woodward, a Santa Barbara resident.
While CalFire was initially in charge of the scene with the Placer County Sherrif’s Department, Colfax’s city fire department and Placer Hill Fire Department also supporting, Union Pacific took over command once all fire personnel were relieved at 3:10 p.m., Tolmachoff said. The Placer County Office of Emergency Services was also reportedly on scene.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.