Lithium batteries causes train car explosion in NE Houston

HOUSTON – A fire that broke out on a Union Pacific train after one of the containers it was carrying exploded Sunday evening has been put out.

A spokesperson for Union Pacific said the container was carrying recycled lithium batteries and the explosion happened around 6 p.m. in the 1200 block of Chapman Street in downtown Houston. 

“I was unloading everything from my truck. When I got up to my back porch I was walking inside and all of a sudden an explosion went off," said Tashi Garcia, whose family lives about 350 feet away from the railroad tracks.  

He said the explosion was so powerful it moved him and damaged his home.

“It threw me into the threshold of the house up against the door I had no idea what was happening. It was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard," Garcia said.

Jeffrey Degraff, a Union Pacific spokesperson, said the train was transporting containers from the Port of New Orleans to San Antonio.

He said over the phone that the conductor was notified by an operations manager at one of the company's facilities nearby that one of the boxes was smoldering. The conductor was able to stop the train, inspected what happened and called emergency crews.

“A couple minutes went by and I started to notice just some smoke coming from that area  then gradually you heard this popping and almost like ammunition noise, then the fire and flames started to grow larger,  then it moved back to the back portion of the rail cart," Garcia said.

Degraff said no one was hurt and Houston Fire Department was able to put out the fire by 8 p.m. He said there was no hazmat activity related to fire and only the one container was damaged.

He said the train will be taken to one of Union Pacific's nearby yards and will be taken of the line and the train will continue to San Antonio.

Union Pacific said its customer service group is working to track down information on who the cart belongs to, the extent of the damage and any other issues.