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Sweet leak at highway underpass

Posted by: tdt -

By Robin Scott

Drivers reported a mysterious substance flowing from two Burlington Northern tanker rail cars.  The railcars were sitting atop of the underpass on Denrock on Saturday, April 4th at approximately 2:00 p.m. when the call was received by central dispatch.  The substance was reportedly yellow and flowing out of the top nozzle of the two railcars. 

The Dalhart Fire Department and Capt. Stout and Det. Rowell of the Dalhart Police Department responded to the scene.   The area was secured while the fire department determined what the substance was that was flowing out of the railcars.  The mysterious substance oozing from the tankers turned out to be molasses. 

The underpass located over Denrock has been the source of much aggravation for Dalhart residents and travelers alike.  Recently, Don Drickey with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) gave a talk at the Rotary Club’s April luncheon.  He explained that the rebuilding project for the underpass is on hold indefinitely due to funding shortages.  The underpass is impassible on days with ice or snowfall.  The underpass becoming impassible due to molasses was a different type of aggravation.  Det. Rowell commented, “We are used to having traffic problems because of weather, but this is pretty unusual, but we are very glad it wasn’t a dangerous chemical.” 

Tanker cars are designed to carry bulk liquids, including refined gasoline, heating oil, corn syrup and molasses.  The liquid is loaded through a nozzle at the top of the tanker.  The molasses in the two tanker railcars that leaked out last Saturday was due to a change in temperature.  Molasses expands as it is heated.  The outside temperature coupled with the direct sunlight striking the tankers in mid afternoon caused the molasses to heat up and expand.  The load became too big for the 30,000-gallon capacity tankers.  The tankers overflowed from the top nozzle until the level of molasses inside each tanker was reduced, but not before creating a sticky mess on the roadway.

Officers directed traffic while the fire department worked to contain the sweet mess.  Members of the Dalhart Fire Department helped to build a temporary dike to contain the molasses in an attempt to keep it from spreading.  The tankers of molasses, along with two other tankers filled with molasses that did not overflow, were moved down the tracks and currently sit on Highway 87 across from the Sonic Restaurant.   The molasses can easily be seen from across the highway.

Cow Feed Company, owner of the molasses, was responsible for cleaning up the molasses that covered the underpass.  Fire Chief Brown stated that the amount of molasses that poured from the tankers was minimal considering the amount of molasses each tanker held.  “If it had leaked from the bottom somewhere it would have been a huge mess, but it was just spilling over from the top, until the level was lowered within the tankers,” Fire Chief Brown stated.  He also stated that the tankers traveled to Dalhart from the north where the temperature was much lower.  Although the air temperature was not what may normally be considered hot, the tankers heat up considerably when sitting in direct sunlight.


(Texan Photos by Robin Scott)