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Rail cars derail near Aitkin

A BNSF Railroad worker studied the 10-car coal train derailment east of Aitkin. 1 / 2
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AITKIN — Ten cars on a BNSF coal train derailed Monday in an isolated, deeply wooded area about four miles east of Aitkin near 380th Avenue.

No injuries were reported. 

The coal train was heading east from Montana to Superior, Wis., with the unit train of coal when the cars derailed at 2:30 p.m. The train, with three locomotives and 123 loaded cars, had three crew members aboard, including an engineer, a conductor and a conductor in training. 

Around 5:30 p.m. Monday, Pete Hamell, BNSF superintendent of operations in the Twin Cities division, who was on site, said the scene was secure and safe, but everything “was under stress,” therefore, he would not allow anyone to get close to the site, including reporters and photographers.

Hamell said each car typically carries 116 tons of coal, and the coal that was spilled out of the cars was contained within the railroad’s right-of-way property along the tracks.

Hamell said about a half-dozen crew members from Brainerd and Aitkin were on scene to assess the damage and to clean up the mess. The crew will work overnight Monday and continue into Tuesday, but Hamell was not sure how long it would take to clean it up. 

Amy McBeth, BNSF spokeswoman, said it’s too early to say what may have caused the derailment. Rail cars that can be salvaged may be put back on the rails or scrapped depending on damage. Once the spilled coal and derailed cars are cleared, railway crews will be able to assess what repairs may be needed for the track itself.

BNSF reports 12 trains are typically on that line within a 24-hour period. BNSF crews will be on site to cleanup spilled coal and inspect the track for any needed repair before it will be open to train traffic again.

A coal train was stranded on the tracks between Deerwood and Aitkin along Highway 210, as it could not go through because of the derailment.

“... Anytime a track is shut down that will cause delays for us and it’s an impact in the community in which we operate so our crews will be working as quickly as possible,” McBeth said.  

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851.

Renee Richardson, senior reporter, assisted with this story.