The incident occurred on the morning of July 29, 2020. The bridge spanned the Tempe Town Lake, an artificial lake located east of Phoenix, Arizona.
The train was traveling from Tucson to Phoenix. According to Tempe Police Department officials, the derailment occurred at about 6:00 am and the train caught on fire.
It is unknown how many people were on the train at the time of the derailment. Fortunately, there were no injuries but, a person was treated for smoke inhalation.
The fire extended to the bridge and caused a section of the structure to collapse onto a roadway below. The truss rail bridge was constructed in 1912 and survived major floods that occurred in the past and destroyed 3 other bridges built in the same location. The facility was inspected on July 9, 2020.
The incident was dramatic as fire spread and the air was filled with smoke. Camille Kimball, an investigative reporter was cycling under the bridge at the time of the incident and marginally escaped the falling debris. Kimball describes the moment that the bridge caught on fire and then gave way. "As I watched the flames got higher and higher. I realized the sound I heard was the bridge collapsing...Now there's fire pouring into the lake from the middle of the bridge. It' looks like a scene from hell, truly. A scene from hell. The flames are intense and the sky is filled with black smoke," she stated.
102 vehicles were being transported by the train. 8-10 of them caught fire and 3 tank cars fell to the ground (none fell into the lake). 2 of them contained cyclohexanone, a flammable substance, and the other a rubber material. Fortunately, there were no reports about any potential leaking of the vehicles.
The fire department quickly responded and 100 firefighters rushed at the scene. The air was filled with a plume of smoke that made the operations more difficult.
The Tempe Town Lake was closed for safety reasons while the causes of the train's derailment are under investigation. The railway course has been temporarily rerouted.
State environmental officials assessed the quality of the air later and found out that there is no hazard for local people.
According to authorities, a train derailment occurred in the same area on June 26 but its impact was minor compared to the current incident as just some railroad ties were caught on fire.