14 February 2020
Elkhorn City, Kentucky: a fiery train derailment by a landslide
On 13 February 2020 at about 7 am a freight train was derailed by a landslide close to Elkhorn City in Pike County in Kentucky, USA. Fortunately the train crew were able to escape the accident even though five carriages were derailed. The train consisted of three locomotives, 96 freight cars carrying ethanol, and two sand cars. Some of the carriages caught fire after the accident, meaning that the train crew had to be rescued by boat.
This image, tweeted by the Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet, shows the extremely messy aftermath of the accident:-
The landslide can be seen on the right hand side of the image, with debris that extends to the river. The lead locomotive is centre right, with the cab close to the river. Videos suggest that the train crew had to be rescued by boat from this location. Note the various derailed freight cars.
I have struggled to find a good image of the landslide itself, but a video posted by WYMT includes the following still:-
From this image the landslide appears to be a planar slide on a steep, wooded slope. Based on the news reports, my preliminary interpretation is that the landslide occurred on the slope shown below, which is at 37.333, -82.371:-
The landslide was undoubtedly caused by the prolonged heavy rainfall currently affecting large parts of the United States. Landslides have been reported elsewhere too, such as in West Virginia.
Landslides induced rail derailments are not unusual, fortunately in this case there has been no loss of life.