by Kim Smiley
About 1:40 am on May 17, six rail cars derailed and overturned near Lafayette, Louisiana. One of the cars was damaged and leaked about 11,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid. Five people, including two rail workers, were sent to a hospital and treated for eye and skin irritation.
Authorities evacuated people with 1 mile of the accident. Approximately 3,000 people were affected, including a few small businesses and a nursing home. All affected people are being reimbursed for food and hotel costs by the railway company that operated the train.
There was potential for further release of chemicals because one of the rail cars involved in the accident carried ethylene oxide, a flammable and dangerous chemical, and two of the remaining cars also carried hydrochloric acid.
The Louisiana State Police’s hazardous materials unit is overseeing clean-up of the accident site. The spill is being neutralized with lime and the contaminated material will be removed and disposed of. The rail car containing ethylene oxide was removed from the site quickly to reduce the potential for additional problems.
The cause of the derailment is not known at this time. The Federal Railroad Administration will conduct an investigation of the accident.
The attached PDF file contains an intermediate level root cause analysis of the train derailment built using Cause Mapping, a visual form of root cause analysis. It was built using the facts that were available in media reports on the accident. As more details are known, the Cause Map can be expanded.