Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

5.1 What Happened

5.1.1 Incident

On Sunday, March 6, 2005, railroad workers discovered a leaking tanker car in the Union Pacific Roper Rail Yard. Approximately 6,000 gallons out of 13,000 to 15,000 gallons of liquid had spilled onto the ground, which forced the closure of nearby roads (including two interstates) and the evacuation of a neighborhood.

The railroad workers contacted 911 and told them that it looked like there may be a fire in the rail yard since there was smoke coming from a rail car. The Valley Emergency Communications Center (911) dispatched HazMat teams (both police and fire) and eight fire department units.

The South Salt Lake City Fire Department sent a battalion chief, who became the incident commander. A unified command, with the fire department in the lead, was established shortly after the 911 call. The fire department, in turn, contacted the South Salt Lake City Police Department, the Highway Patrol, and the South Salt Lake City Valley Health Department.

The on-call chief of the fire department was contacted when it was determined that the response needed to be “scaled up” to handle the incident. The tank started to fail, and the concern was the entire contents of the tank would spill onto the ground.

Between approximately 10:00 and 12:00, the tanker car started to break down further, causing concern over the structural integrity of the vehicle.

Exhibit 3 presents an approximate timeline of the incident.

Exhibit 3—Timeline for South Salt Lake City Incident
Sunday, March 6, 2005



911 call received on leaking rail car from the Roper Rail Yard


Fire department units arrived on the scene


Additional units requested by the Incident Commander—Midvale Fire Department Mobile Research Unit for HazMat and Sandy City mobile decontamination unit


Union Pacific observer used the description “looks like bullet holes” and as a result, a call was made to Homeland Security—the fire department received inconsistent information on material in the rail car


Department of Public Safety helicopter provided aerial reconnaissance of the rail car


Determination that the holes were due to damage because holes were enlarging from material in tank corroding the tank walls; plans to offload the product


Incident command post moved due to plume—no line of sight to incident area


Union Pacific had equipment to offload the car; determined the approach could not be used due to deterioration of the rail car


I-15 shut down began


I-15 shut down complete


Part of the area designated for a mandatory evacuation; started evacuating residents; part of the area designated for a voluntary evacuation, with a shelter-in-place recommendation


Joint Information Center opened


Mandatory evacuation completed and local roads closed


Next attempt to offload rail car using snorkel and boom. First attempt ruined the pump and eventually received a pump that would not disintegrate. Acquired sample, processed on site the material, which helped plans for offloading.


Sent sample to the State Department of Health Laboratory for laboratory assay


Evacuation order rescinded

Monday, March 7, 2005



Freeways open. Most of the contents of the rail car offloaded and the rest neutralized in the rail car.


The rail car was punctured to allow for the offloading of its contents. After the rail car was offloaded, it was moved by a remote-controlled locomotive to an area near the decontamination site. The Union Pacific HazMat responders lifted the car off the track and set it on the dirt. A berm was constructed around the car to contain any liquid. At this time, the incident command determined that the rail car was no longer a public safety threat and turned over control of the scene to the Union Pacific team.

5.1.2 Evacuation

The incident occurred at approximately 05:30. Once it was determined that the situation was worsening, a decision was made to evacuate residents. The incident commander made the decision to evacuate in consultation with other members of the incident command. Once the group made the decision, it notified the joint information center of the evacuation.

An evacuation plan was quickly put into place. The rail yard, where the leaking tanker car was located, is in an industrial area that on Sunday morning was basically empty of workers. However, there are residential homes within 1 mile of the rail yard, and approximately 3,000 residents were evacuated. The evacuation took approximately 3 hours to complete.

The evacuation zone ranged from approximately 1 to 1 ½ miles. Within this evacuation zone, there were no special needs evacuees such as nursing homes or jail facilities.

People were contacted with a Reverse 911® system and by the police department going door to door through the neighborhood and giving people a few minutes to gather their belongings before evacuating.

The incident commander considered the use of public transport or school buses to transport evacuees, but there did not appear to be a need for the buses, so none were ordered. People evacuated themselves with the use of personal vehicles.

Commanders from the police department and the deputy commissioner from the state patrol were on the scene and made immediate decisions. Consensus was Reverse 911® worked well for notification, and the police department and highway patrol provided a “great job overseeing, the road/freeway closures and the evacuation.”

February 6, 2006
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-014