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Santa Fe Avenue still closed following train derailment
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Crews from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads emergency response team plot the removal of derailed boxcars at Santa Fe and Hatch roads Monday morning. - photo by Photo contributed by Don Cool

Santa Fe Avenue is expected to be closed this week for clean-up of Saturday freight train's derailment near Hughson.

The train jumped off the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks north of Hatch Road Saturday evening, scattering crumpled box cars on the landscape, ripping up track, blocking major roads and disrupting service for Amtrak passengers.

There also were no injuries when the train, headed northbound from Barstow to Stockton, derailed at around 11:20 p.m. between Hatch and Leedom roads. Approximately 30 cars were either topsy-turvy along the tracks of sitting upright with no tracks beneath them. At least two railcars landed in lanes of Santa Fe Avenue and one of the cars spilled a non-toxic powder along Santa Fe Avenue but no hazardous material was spilled or released.

Some of the cars remained upright while others - including one carrying steel beams - were flipped on their side and contents spilled. Rails were twisted and ties were plowed up along some sections.

Also damaged were the metal boxes containing railroad signaling equipment. Because repairing and replacing parts takes time, the railroad didn't believe the tracks would be open until early next week.

An emergency response crew was dispatched by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad to bring heavy equipment to the scene to begin clean-up. The cars were removed from the tracks but a number remained yesterday off to the side.

Authorities have yet to determine what caused the derailment, however, a train derailment study done by NexTrans Center and Purdue University suggests that most derailments occur from broken rails or welds. Trains traveling at higher speeds can also derail from a variety of other factors, including bearing failure, broken wheels, axle defects, the report found.

During Sunday's cleanup operation, Santa Fe Avenue was closed between Hatch Road and Leedom Road; westbound Hatch Road at Santa Fe Avenue and eastbound Hatch Road at Baldwin Road.

"I was at the stoplight on Hatch coming from my house and I saw sparks coming from the underneath of the train car," Rachelle Parkay detailed in a post on the Hughson Police Services Facebook page. "Then all of a sudden I saw the train cars shaking back and forth, then cars were derailing off the track and halfway in the road."

Jane Short commented that the crash "sounded like a jet coming down."

Amtrak has been chartering people by bus from their stations in Merced and Stockton. The Modesto and Turlock Amtrak stations will not be used while the track is out of service.