After 19 of the 135-cars on a Union Pacific train derailed at 5:50 a.m. Jan. 19, officials with UP didn’t report it to dispatch until an hour later when members of the Caledonia Fire Department drove by it.

Union Pacific said their employees followed the proper protocol, but the delay in reporting is cause for concern for Caledonia public safety officials.

Battalion Chief Jeff Henningfeld of the Caledonia Fire Department said members of the fire department stumbled across the derailment at 7:10 a.m. on Five Mile Road east of Nicholson Road by the train overpass.

“I can tell you that there was no fire department notification prior to us responding to it and it is a concern,” Henningfeld said. “I can’t control when people call us. But I can’t stress enough the importance of calling us immediately when things like this happen.”

At the same time fire officials reported the derailment, officials with Union Pacific did report the incident to dispatchers at the Racine County Joint Dispatch Center. But there had been no reports made prior to 7:10 am., said a representative with the Racine County Joint Dispatch Center.

Mark Davis, a representative for Union Pacific said the railroad operates its own police department and they contact emergency responders only if a derailment blocks a road, involves injuries or the cars carry hazardous material.

“Since this did not fit those criteria, our police contacted the first responders as a courtesy,” Davis said.

Still, firefighters did block off Five Mile Road between Highway 38 and Nicholson road after they learned about the derailment because they initially thought that one of the cars that had come off the track posed a danger of falling off of the overpass bridge.

“Since the fire department department did block off the road, it’s strange that Union Pacific didn’t call us before that time,” said a representative with the Racine County Joint Dispatch Center. “They seemed to be more on top of things like that than others railroads.”

However, Lt. Brian Wall, of Caledonia Police Department, said Sunday afternoon that nothing was in danger of falling off the bridge and it is closed so that Union Pacific can get their equipment out there. Wall said the department would have liked to have had a more timely report on the derailment, especially if someone would have been injured or if it was criminal in nature.

“But I’m going to try to talk to the UP about it,” Wall said. “Sometimes it takes a while for trains to stop… miles sometimes because they aren’t a car and just can’t slam on the brakes.”

Wall said Five Mile Road will be closed indefinitely until the clean-up is done, and officials with Union Pacific are still trying to determine the cause of the derailment.

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.