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Official on derailment: Track failure ‘a matter of time’

KIMBALL — Two days after a 14-car train derailment in central South Dakota, officials believe there’s nothing that could have been done differently to avoid the wreck.

The derailment occurred Saturday afternoon, approximately six miles east of Kimball, near exit 289 on Interstate 90.

“This is just something that happens and it’s a matter of time before there’s a track failure,” South Dakota State Rail Board Chairman Todd Yeaton said. “This just happened to be the time.”

The lone person on the train was its engineer and he was not injured, according to Brule County Emergency Manager Katheryn Benton. The engineer was taken to a Chamberlain hospital for a blood draw, which is standard operating procedure. The train was hauling wheat from the Kennebec Wheat Growers facility to Mitchell, and though not all of the cars that tipped were leaking grain, a “significant amount” was spilled, Benton said.

The derailment caused “significant damage” on the Dakota Southern Railroad-owned line, but its cause remains under investigation, though some have speculated the role of speed and weather.

Workers on Monday were seen cleaning up the derailment, but officials with Dakota Southern could not be reached immediately for comment Monday.  

Temperatures on Saturday peaked around 100 degrees, which could cause malfunctions in the rail even though it passed previous inspections, Yeaton said.

“There are chances this kind of thing happens when you’re running traffic in extreme heat or extreme cold,” Yeaton said. “It happens — it’s just part of doing business. I don’t expect anything to be done any differently moving forward.”

Officials with Dakota Southern could not be reached immediately for comment Monday.

Saturday’s derailment marks the first major incident on the rail line since its opening approximately five years ago.

But it has had trouble before. In April 2016, an inspection unveiled uneven rails, ties broken or shifted, insufficient supporting ballast rock in many areas, ballast piles that weren’t spread, weeds growing from the rail bed, and scrap materials along the shoulders in some places.

MRC Regional Railroad Authority Board Chairman Kim Halverson said there has been work in the past year to alleviate the issues and added the line was inspected in the spring.

And south central South Dakota has seen other derailments in the region over the past two years. In 2015, a derailment near Scotland caused $1.08 million in damage after ethanol leaked onto a field and sparked a fire. In 2016, two cars slightly derailed in Mitchell after the axles slid off the rails.