PLAINFIELD – Pastor BT Norman got a call Friday evening asking whether he and others at Community Christian Church in Plainfield were OK.
A 115-car train had just derailed from its tracks near the industrial-building-turned-church on Riverwalk Court, north of downtown Plainfield off of Route 59.
People at the church were fine.
“Then I found out we had the opportunity to host all of the emergency responder cleanup efforts,” Norman said.
Crews still were on scene Monday managing the aftermath of the derailment, which spilled some 40,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil near the DuPage River. They parked their vehicles in the church’s parking lot Friday and had access to the church building for refreshments, shelter and its bathrooms.
“We were just privileged to be able take care of those who take care of us all the time. It was an honor to do that,” Norman said.
Crews left the church just in time for service to go on as planned Sunday morning.
“It was an amazing effort on their part to work quickly and make it possible for us to have church,” Norman said.
Canadian National, which owns and operates the railroad where the derailment occurred, brought about 1,000 feet of replacement tracks to the church’s parking lot and installed it Saturday. Trains were running again Sunday afternoon.
Nearly all oil recovered
In the meantime, cleanup will continue.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representative Mike Beslow said Monday that all leaking tank cars have been either plugged or vacuumed out. Some oil was released into an excavation pit and almost all oil has been recovered.
Site analysis so far shows that no oil entered the nearby DuPage River, Beslow said.
“We have seen no impact to the river or any navigable waterways,” Beslow said. “I would say the threat of oil releasing into waterways has been mitigated.”
The U.S. EPA is now transitioning oversight to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Will County, Beslow said. It’s likely the U.S. EPA would only get involved again if assistance is requested, he added.
Local agencies will be tasked with removing oil from the soil where the spill occurred, Beslow said.
Will County Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Harold Damron said Monday that his office’s role is winding down as the threat of immediate danger is nearly gone. But Damron did say that incidents such as this draw attention and awareness to the risks of crude oil transportation.
He said because of the spills that have occurred across the country, agencies such as his have better communication with railroad companies. Fire departments such as Plainfield’s have been able to train specifically to respond to railroad emergencies such as the one Friday.
“There are a lot of communities doing a good job in preparing for disasters, but I would point to Plainfield as a good role model,” Damron said. “They take disaster very seriously here, whether it’s flooding, a train derailment or tornado.”
Some residents have raised concerns on social media that a Nicor natural gas pipeline replacement project near the failed CN tracks had something to do with the derailment.
Neither CN nor Nicor is commenting in detail on the possibility that the pipeline project, which crosses paths with the railroad tracks in the area of the derailment, played a role in the mishap.
Nicor is in the midst of modernizing a pipeline throughout northern Illinois that passes through Plainfield, crossing the railroad tracks and DuPage River, according to a map Nicor published in February.
The natural gas company is replacing a 6.9-mile segment of natural gas transmission pipeline within ComEd right of way. Work on the pipeline was approaching the railroad, which could be seen from aerial photographs Friday.
CN spokesman Patrick Waldon said Monday that CN “continues to move forward with its comprehensive investigation regarding the cause and circumstances of Friday’s incident,” but added CN doesn’t have a specific comment on the pipeline project yet.
In an email, Nicor spokesman Duane Bourne said, “we are aware of the train derailment in Plainfield that occurred in the area where a contractor was conducting work. We are monitoring the situation and will continue to assist local authorities as they investigate this incident.”
Brown said construction on the pipeline project in the immediate area has been temporarily delayed.
The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating. But the FRA wouldn’t go into detail, either.
“The cause of the incident is under investigation. However, there will be a public report that the railroad provides available on the FRA database Oct. 1,” FRA spokeswoman Tiffany Lindemann said in an email.