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Officials investigating cause of 12-car derailment in Frankfort

By Tim Weideman

FRANKFORT — The Monday morning calm was disrupted by a deafening snap and the thuds of train cars crashing to the ground when a Union Pacific Railroad train derailed near the Kansas Highway 9 crossing.

The incident occurred at about 9 a.m., according to Union Pacific officials. Nobody was hurt, but the tracks were mangled and 12 of the train’s 137 coal-filled cars derailed.

Union Pacific employee Joe Lauer, of Frankfort, was enjoying the first few hours of his day off when he witnessed the derailment.

“I was just driving down by the tracks and seen dust and rocks flying,” he said. “So, when I got to the crossing up there by the switch, (the train) went into the ground. It derailed and stacked and racked the cars. Thank God nobody was hurt.”

Lauer said he felt the earth shake as the cars tumbled over and smacked the ground.

“Like an earthquake, I guess,” he said.

The derailment forced both K-9 and K-99 to close. The railroad intersects both highways in Frankfort.

According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, the K-99 crossing was reopened at about 10:45 a.m.

The K-9 crossing was still closed as of Tuesday morning.

Mark Davis, director of corporate relations for Union Pacific, said crews are working to clear the debris and replace 1,000 feet of track.

“Heavy equipment arrived around the noon hour and started working,” he said Monday.

Davis said officials didn’t have an estimate for when the track or the crossing would reopen.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. Davis said the investigation likely will take two to three weeks to complete.

The train was traveling from Wyoming to an electric utility in Texas.

It’s not known how much coal the train was carrying. Davis said a salvage company probably will be brought in to collect the coal and sell it to a different customer.

“Once the coal hits the ground, once it spills out, that is no longer useable for the customer,” he said.

Union Pacific won’t know the value of the coal that was lost until bills arrive in two to three months, Davis said.

While crews dressed in neon-colored vests worked to clean up the mess Monday afternoon, several bystanders watched and snapped pictures of the tracks snaking off to the side and around the toppled cars.

Sue Adams, of Lillis, said it’s not the first time she’s driven to a nearby town to see a derailment’s carnage.

She recalled another derailment that happened a few years ago that she documented with her camera.

“Out in the country, there’s nothing to do, so you just come look at train wrecks,” Adams said.

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