Coal train derails in Columbia River Gorge

Coal train derails in Columbia River Gorge
(Action News photo)
MESA, Wash. -- It was a big crash for this little town. Steven works right across the street. He says, "I thought it was thunder, I really did."

The train rolled off of the tracks just as Charlie was walking into his Mesa store last night. He tells KEPR, "Just twisted. Looking at the iron just sheered off right where it is, wheels laying everywhere, it's hard to fathom that much carnage and destruction in such a short little distance."

The 30 cars were filled with coal coming from Wyoming.. heading to ports in Canada and eventually to Asia. Many people heard about the crash and stopped by to see the wreckage... Including opponents of big coal shipments like this.. Saying transferring and burning coal is speeding up climate change.

BNSF police are on 24 hour patrol.. Watching for fire risk and other threats. Neighbors are more worried about the cause of the wreck. BNSF says it's still under investigation.. They are skeptical.

Charlie says, "I mean the trains go through here pretty fast, I mean 50 miles per hour. And that's a lot of weight.. and who knows."

Steven chimes in, "Usually they're going pretty quick."

Either way, BNSF tells me that the stretch of rail should be running by Wednesday. But it could take up to 3 weeks to get the cars cleared and the coal removed.

Charlie and Steven say there's a positive side.. 50 or more workers around the clock.

Charlie explains, "Probably a real boom here for our store for the holiday weekend... all those extra guys working on all their stuff."
Steven says, "These guys are coming in here and spending money, they might need something that I have, it's gonna have a financial impact."

And of course, it's a train wreck.. so you can't look away.

Charlie smiles, "Hey, it's not too often you see a train derail."