TEMPE, Ariz. - A portion of the bridge over Tempe Town Lake was demolished on Aug. 2, just days after a train car derailed on the morning of July 29 and caused a massive fire.
The 150-foot area of the damaged rail bridge was demolished at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. Tempe police say there had been two earlier attempts to detonate the bridge that morning, but failed because people in the area continued to come outside despite shelter-in-place orders.
"We had to do an all-stop a few times to make sure the area was cleared prior to detonation to make sure it was safe for our residents," said Assistant Tempe Fire and Medical Chief Andrea Glass.
Crews left two train cars on the bridge from the derailment, saying it would make cleanup easier.
"It wasn’t like a crack that hit your ears - it was more something that shook your entire body," said Tempe resident Britton Vickers.
Abbi Lee, another witness to the demolition, said it was an ominous feeling for a split second.
"The whole window flexed for a second - I thought something bad was going to happen because I’ve never seen anything like that before, but everything was good and controlled," Lee said.
Everything went as planned as crews used small precision charges to tumble a 150 foot section of the century old Union Pacific railway bridge over Tempe Town Lake.
Union Pacific said the remains of the blast will be cut up and removed so crews can start bridge construction. The southern part might look different but most will stay the same.
"There is nothing that indicates any more of the bridge sections will need to be altered or removed," said Union Pacific representative Clint Schelbitzki.
It’s still unclear how long the reconstruction project will take and when the lake and roads will be reopened.
"I grew up here," said resident Britton Vickers. "I grew up driving across the freeway and seeing this bridge to me. It’s one of the most beautiful things driving through Tempe to witness, so I’m really hoping they reconstruct it in a way that preserves its beauty and classic structure."
The derailment happened around 6 a.m. when a Union Pacific cargo train derailed. It quickly became a hazardous material situation and the public is asked to avoid the area until the scene is investigated completely and made safe once again.
No major injuries were reported in this incident.
On Aug. 2, crews demolished part of the bridge between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m. and the Tempe Police Department is asking residents in the area to leave the area during the demolition of a 150-foot section on the south end of the bridge.
Three tank cars fell off during the derailment, two of them carrying a toxic chemical called cyclohexane. One car leaked 500 gallons into a city storm drain ending up in a dry riverbed.
On July 31, two workers got splashed by the chemical while offloading one of the cars. Both are OK after being treated.
After demolition wraps up, clean up crews can continue.
"We have looked at every scenario and planned for the scenario that has the least amount of risk and is the safest and that operation is to detach that damaged bridge section and drop it in place," explained Clint Schelbitzki, spokesperson for Union Pacific Railroad.
Authorities say the demolition will sound like one large aerial firework and will take about 10-15 minutes from start to finish.
A center for residents to go during those 2 hours will be set up at Westside Multi-Generational Center and safety protocols will be in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The cause of the derailment is still under investigation as well as the cause of a derailment on the same bridge that happened June 26.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is overseeing the investigation, but the timeline of the clean-up process is unknown.