As much as 300 gallons leaked from retired train engines.

AUBURN – Workers next week will begin cleaning an oil spill that polluted an acre of wetlands near Danville Junction.

Estimated at between 200 and 300 gallons, the oil leaked from locomotives owned by the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad Co. The retired equipment was stored on an unused section of track.

“Apparently they were vandalized over the winter,” said Greg O’Brien of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “It did affect a good portion of property.”

The vandals opened valves on some of the 10 locomotives. That allowed lubrication oil – similar to engine oil for an automobile – to seep into a gully and stream and pool in a wetland area owned by a resident. Last week, a fisherman reported the spill to the landowner, who then called the state.

O’Brien, who led the department’s response, met with railroad company officials at the site. The locomotives were sealed up and moved to the company’s yard at Danville Junction. The railroad bought them in 1998 and used them until last year.

“They were waiting to be sold,” said Charles Hunter, general manager for St. Lawrence & Atlantic in Auburn. He still expects to sell the locomotives by the end of the year. “They had been there for close to a year.”

Locomotives on the market are generally not drained of fluids, to prevent against corrosion, Hunter said. The company has not experienced any problems like this in the past.

The slick is mostly contained in the wetland, and has not crept into the nearby Royal River, said O’Brien. While the oil does not pose an immediate health hazard, it needs to be removed as soon as possible.

The railroad has hired an environmental consultant and Enpro Services of Maine, a cleanup contractor based in South Portland.

“This week has been coordinating,” O’Brien said. He will be on site for the work, expected to begin Monday. “We’re making sure everybody is on the same page. We want this to be as safe and non-impacting as possible.”

Because of the nature of the spill, DEP will not penalize the company. The railroad will, however, pay for a full cleanup. The goal is to return the property to its prior condition. Hunter declined to discuss cost estimates, but said it would not be a major expense.

“It’s basically a surface situation,” Hunter said. Contaminated soil and vegetation will be removed. He expects the cleanup to take between seven and 10 days.

O’Brien has been pleased with the company’s response: “They are the responsible party and they have done everything the DEP has hoped for thus far.”

The railroad is one of three private companies that form the core of rail transportation in Maine. The others are Guilford Rail System and the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad. The St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad runs freight between Portland and St. Rosalie, Quebec.

The DEP recorded more than 3,000 oil spills in 2002, ranging in size, O’Brien said. He characterized the impact of this event as moderate.

“It certainly could have been worse,” he said of the Danville spill, “but it is unfortunate nonetheless.”

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