LECLAIRE, Iowa -- The Federal Railway Administration is investigating the cause of a derailment in LeClaire on Friday that sent 24 train cars toppling into the riverfront parking lot.
As crews continued to clean up the mess left behind on Monday, radio chatter between the train operators and dispatch has revealed that a broken rail could have triggered the incident.
Restaurant workers were stunned by what they saw over their back balcony as they were preparing Friday lunch service, uploading live video of the wreckage to Facebook.
It was the nearly two-mile long Canadian Pacific train 475, bound for St. Paul, Minnesota.
"CP 9716 North, uh, hit a broken rail just past the south switch of Le Claire. I do believe we are on the ground, over," an unknown train conductor or engineer can be heard on radio reporting to Canadian Pacific dispatch. The phrase "on the ground" is railroad jargon for derailment.
He is asked to repeat himself by the dispatcher.
"I said we went over about a 2 foot piece of broken rail, it’s pretty rough. And then we lost our air. And as far as we can see back, we’re missing a bunch of our train," he said.
Twenty-four cars went off the rails. The radio chatter also supports witness accounts that train cars went flying.
"He said when he came around the corner at the south switch there was cars flying all over the place, he said you got cars in the river, in the siding. So might wanna get somebody out here," a CP employee is heard saying.
In fact, none of the cars actually went into the river, but the radio conversation demonstrates the confusion as railroad officials tried to get a grip on what just happened and how bad the situation might be.
"We’ve got downed power lines, we got one hazardous car on the ground and is leaking. And it’s caustic. I need to grab my list. Yeah, we’re, it ain’t good, over," another unknown employee can be heard saying.
Fortunately, there were no injuries.
Crews worked into the night to clean up the spilled chemical and remove the leaking car, getting the trains back up and running by 4:00 a.m. Saturday, just 17 hours after the derailment occurred.
But, listening to the conversation it is clear that railroad employees knew the situation could have been so much worse.
"All right understood no buildings were damaged on the conductor side," the dispatcher is heard saying.
"Correct… And I’m not sure about civilians on the riverside because there’s a parking lot there and a lot of people hang out there," another railroad employee responds.