Bridge on busy railway catches fire, collapses near International Falls

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A bridge on a busy railway near International Falls caught fire and collapsed early Wednesday, nearly dumping several rail cars into the river below.

The crew on the Canadian National Railway train reported the fire on the bridge just after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the International Falls Journal reports.

The conductor on the train came around the corner and saw flames on the bridge, so he hit the emergency stop, Koochiching County Sheriff Perryn Hedlund told BringMeTheNews.

Hedlund said as the train was stopping, a few cars filled with potash got caught on the burning bridge, which spans the Rat Root River just north of Ericsburg and about 10 miles south of International Falls.

The conductor wasn't able to get the train moving again, Hedlund noted.

Crews with the railway have been on the scene for several hours, and contractors are en route to help with the clean-up, Hedlund says. The unaffected cars were cleared from the bridge area, and Canadian National Railway is constructing a crane to help remove the affected cars that are resting on the remnants of the burned bridge.

Traffic on the rail line has been halted until further notice. Officials say a temporary bridge will need to be built to reroute traffic. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Heavily traveled rail corridor

The destroyed bridge is part of a heavily traveled railway that serves roughly two dozen trains a day, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

The rail line crosses the United States-Canadian border in Rainer, Minnesota, and continues south toward Duluth and onto Chicago, the Canadian National Railway website shows.

Rainer is one of the busiest rail crossings between the U.S. and its northern neighbor, reports note, which has some officials in the area worried something similar could happen to other rail bridges.

“Something’s going to happen,” Dennis Wagner, mayor of Rainer, told the Star Tribune. “It’s just freaking math. ...

“What happens when this other bridge that’s 120 years old collapses? Oh! Imagine that. And then it fills the whole Rainy River full of oil and gas,” Wagner added.

Other officials in Koochiching County also worry of rail disasters in the heavily traveled corridor, but say this time they were lucky because the train wasn't carrying anything flammable.

"Rail safety – our most dangerous disaster in our county is exactly this," Koochiching County Emergency Management Coordinator Willi Kostiuk, noting the bridge incident, told the International Falls Journal. "It's lucky this is what we got – where we are and what we have in the cars."

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