Gas Leak in Alpine Prompts Questions

Wyatt Goolsby
Wyatt Goolsby

By Wyatt Goolsby
NewsWest 9

ALPINE - It's a story NewsWest 9 first brought you last Saturday. Brewster County deputies were forced to evacuate parts of Alpine after a suspicious gas leak. No one was hurt, but local law enforcement said Thursday they're worried it could happen again.

Union Pacific trains travel through Alpine nearly every day, and most of the time it's business as usual. 
However, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said he wants more cooperation from railroad officials after a dangerous Argon leak forced the evacuation of several hundred residents on saturday.

"If the valves were freezing, causing the tank to get cold and possibly rupture, [leading to a]torpedo effect of the tank," Dodson said. "Not so much the gas coming from it, but the tank leaving the train and going out in the neighborhoods and businesses."

Officials with Union Pacific told NewsWest 9 the Argon leak was not an immediate danger to residents. In fact, they said this isn't the first time crews have had to fix this kind of a problem.
"But you know, the paper work we had didn't say that," Dodson responded. "We also not only had one tank leaking, but three. The valves were left open, and one tank had a small puncture in it."

Enough concern, Dodson said, to play it safe, leave the train where it was, and stop traffic on Highway 90.

However, it wasn't just a few residents who had to be evacuated. All the students at Sul Ross State University had to leave just in case. That's in addition to nearly all the businesses down Highway 90 coming into Alpine. Authorities said the incident is a big concern and the possiblity of losing all of this commerce and business is also a worry.

"We appreciate the business that the railroad does here, but we wanted to make sure that the chemicals and stuff they're hauling in those trains makes it through here safely," Dodson explained.

Both Union Pacific and the Sheriff told NewsWest 9 they will work together to prevent future problems, but Dodson said his message is clear: "I will say our safety is going to come first before they're bottom line."

Officials with Union Pacific said Thursday if there is ever a dangerous situation with one of their trains, they will let local law enforcement know immediately. They said in this case, they plan to reimburse emergency crews for their time and resources from Saturday.