Tempe, AZ

Report on the one-year anniversary of the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge incident in Tempe

Scott Murdoch

TEMPE, AZ - The federal report on the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge incident was made public by the city of Tempe on July 29, 2021, exactly one year after the accident.

A cargo train derailed on the historic Union Pacific railroad bridge that spans Tempe Town Lake on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, around 6 a.m. Four adjacent cities sent workers to extinguish the resultant fire and remove dangerous materials from the scene.

The event had an impact on 12 railway carriages. Two of the trains carried Cyclohexanon, a chemical used to produce nylon and paint remover. Some chemicals escaped down a storm drain on the dam's west side, but fortunately, none made its way into the Town Lake. 

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) spent more than $100,000 on 70 tests and found that there was no need for additional cleanup beneath the rail bridge, in the Salt River channel downstream of the Tempe Town Lake dam, or in the lake itself. 

Because of this accident, a part of the bridge had to be destroyed and reconstructed. In August of 2020, the reconstruction was completed.

The city is proud of the quick action of the emergency responders, as well as the efforts of those from surrounding cities who helped the emergency team during the event. In addition, gratitude is also given to other city personnel, including city engineers, water quality specialists, municipal utility workers, and those who also worked admirably that day.

In 1912, the historic railroad bridge was constructed and its first traffic was opened in 1915. The bridge is part of a rail route that runs from the West Coast to Chicago and New Orleans in the east. 

The destroyed part of the bridge was given to the Tempe History Museum to be preserved.

After a year, some issues were still discovered around the area. Damaged communications vaults, irrigation systems, transportation infrastructure, and other city property in the region are under repair now.

The city of Tempe is still working with the Union Pacific Railroad to make sure all of Tempe's railroad crossings are safe. Upgraded crossings at Fifth Street, University Drive, and Broadway Road are some of the projects that have been completed recently. Alameda Drive is currently undergoing maintenance while the city's future projects include the improvement of the junction of Kyrene and Elliot roads.

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