Diesel spills into Feather River after train accident

Dan McDonald
Managing Editor




An environmental boom spans Feather River at the bridge below the Rich Bar monument on Highway 70, about 23 miles from Quincy. Photos by Laura Beaton

Diesel fuel spilled into the Feather River after a BNSF Railway locomotive struck a boulder early Friday morning about 24 miles west of Quincy. 

According to several sources, including a report from Plumas County Office of Emergency Services, the accident was reported at 1:47 a.m. after the engine struck the rock as it was traveling between Rich Bar and Twain. 

 The rock punctured a diesel fuel tank on the lead locomotive, spilling fuel along the tracks and into the track ballast. 

Railroad personnel estimate that up to 3,200 gallons of diesel may have been released. Some of the fuel has reportedly reached the river. 


According to Plumas County OES director Jerry Sipe, a cleanup contractor was on the scene. 

Drivers traveling on Highway 70 could notice a “pretty potent” smell from the fuel, according to Sipe. And a sheen created by the diesel could be seen on the water. 

Diesel fuel swirls on the surface of Feather River about two miles below an estimated 3,200 gallon spill resulting from a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train engine hitting a rock and puncturing a fuel tank.

“The smell of diesel is pretty strong to motorists in the serpentine canyon on Highway 70,” Sipe said. “A petroleum sheen can be seen in various locations on the Feather River from the spill site to below Belden, a distance of seven or eight miles.” 

With the assistance of a PG&E helicopter, booms were set up in five locations on the river to help collect the fuel. 

According to a reporter at the scene, booms were visible at the Rock Creek dam, Belden and Rich Bar. 

Although it was a BNSF locomotive that hit the rock, the stretch of track belongs to the Union Pacific. Both companies are involved in the containment and cleanup in addition to NRC, the cleanup contractor. 

BNSF Railway spokesperson Lena Kent said the train originated in Vancouver, Wash. and was headed to Barstow. 

Kent said there was no derailment, and the train resumed traveling at 5:45 a.m. 


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