Fatal train derailment in Pueblo leads Colorado lawmakers to call for more safety measures

By: - October 16, 2023 10:31 am

Derailed coal cars are piled up just north of Pueblo after they derailed Sunday. The derailment forced the closure of all lanes of Interstate 25, caused a partial collapse of a rail bridge, and killed one person. (Mike Sweeney for Colorado Newsline)

A group of Democratic Colorado lawmakers said Sunday night that they were “disappointed but not surprised” to learn of a major train derailment that left one person dead and shut down Interstate 25 north of Pueblo.

The derailment occurred at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday as a southbound BNSF coal train crossed a bridge a mile south of the Purcell Boulevard exit, spilling the contents of at least six coal cars onto the highway, officials said. A 9-mile stretch of I-25 remained closed in both directions Monday morning, with the Colorado Department of Transportation warning of an “extended closure.”

The Colorado State Patrol confirmed on Monday that the driver of a tractor-trailer, a 60-year-old California man, was killed in the incident. The truck was traveling northbound on I-25 and was crushed when the derailed cars fell from the overpass. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board are responding to the scene to investigate the accident, CSP public information officer Troy Kessler said.


“Sadly, this event is not surprising,” the five lawmakers said in a joint statement. They included state Sen. Faith Winter of Thornton, the Senate assistant majority leader and chair of the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee, along with Sens. Lisa Cutter of Jefferson County, Nick Hinrichsen of Pueblo, Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont and Kevin Priola of Henderson.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Gov. Jared Polis said that debris removal cannot begin until the NTSB gives the state clearance to proceed, and urged the agency to complete its work as soon as possible.

“Our immediate priority is safely getting the highway open both ways,” Polis said. “It is estimated that the debris removal phase could take as long as 48 hours, but I am ensuring that we are doing everything we can to complete it more quickly.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Sunday that he had been in contact with Polis and federal rail officials regarding the incident.

“State and local authorities are leading the immediate emergency response, and we will be ready to help in any way needed to support a swift return to normal use for the highway and rail routes affected,” Buttigieg wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The derailment follows several other high-profile train accidents across the country in 2023, beginning with a derailment and chemical fire in East Palestine, Ohio, in February. Widespread concerns about the risks of a proposed oil train project in eastern Utah, which would dramatically increase hazardous materials shipments on Colorado railroads, have also put pressure on state lawmakers to address rail safety.

In advance of the 2024 legislative session, lawmakers on the interim Transportation Legislation Review Committee voted earlier this month to move forward with a bill to address “numerous safety issues with our rail system in Colorado.” It will likely include provisions to limit the length of trains and to require the installation of more trackside detectors to alert rail operators to equipment issues that pose derailment risks. Parts of the proposal mirror federal legislation that was introduced in the aftermath of the East Palestine disaster but has since stalled.

“Efforts on this legislation began in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous hazardous material train derailment in East Palestine,” wrote lawmakers. “Through the aftermath and investigation of that derailment, it became clear that our commercial rail transportation network has been subjected to ever increasing risk of accidents, with ever increasing severity when they do occur.”

Polis also said his administration is working to “take advantage of the safety and rail investments” funded by the 2021 congressional infrastructure law.

“Sadly, those improvements come too late to prevent this incident but it’s clear that federal funds for rail support are critical for Colorado,” the governor said.

Editor’s note: This story was last updated at 3:35 p.m., Oct. 16, 2023, to include a statement from Gov. Polis, in addition to details on the derailment from the Colorado State Patrol.


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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Chase Woodruff is a senior reporter for Colorado Newsline. His beats include the environment, money in politics, and the economy.