Two years after a major train derailment in central Saskatchewan, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has released its findings on how and why it happened.
On Oct. 7, 2014, a CN freight train heading west from Winnipeg to Edmonton derailed near Clair, located around 188 kilometres east of Saskatoon.
Twenty-six cars derailed, including six Class 111 tank cars – the same type involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster – carrying dangerous goods. Two of those cars, loaded with petroleum distillates, released product that caught fire.
In total, around 650 feet of track was destroyed.
The TSB investigation determined the incident happened when a “sudden and catastrophic failure” of one of the rails happened under the train, due to an “undetected defect.”
The report notes poor rail surface conditions masked the problem and reduced the effectiveness of visual and ultrasonic inspections.
Including this derailment, the TSB has looked into seven instances in the last decade involving a pre-existing defect that went undetected by ultrasonic testing.
The investigation also identified risk factors related to the transportation of flammable liquids by rail. The damage to the cars at Clair was consistent with failures noted in other TSB investigations, and the board made recommendations to address this as part of the Lac-Mégantic report.
CN criticized for flaring practices
The TSB also looked into the close call two workers had with a giant fireball during the emergency response.
The incident, which was caught on video by a volunteer firefighter, happened when CN workers were “flaring,” or igniting, the contents of one of the breached tank cars to burn it off. The tank was on its side and had released product, which pooled in the soil below.
According to the report, a flash flare occurred when the vapours inside the tank car ignited – sending a large fireball at the workers. Both emergency responders got out of the way and the fire quickly extinguished itself.
The TSB report found the workers were likely fatigued and didn’t consider all the risks involved for this specific circumstance.
CN was also found not to have documented the close call or “proactively share” the information with any outside agencies – showing gaps in the rail company’s reporting and procedures.
The investigation also identified issues with provincial incident commander training, emergency response activity monitoring and post-response follow-up.
After the Clair derailment, the TSB noted CN has improved procedures for flaring tank cars and bolstered documentation requirements during emergency responses.
Additionally, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of the Environment has also provided better training for incident commanders and for setting up proper site monitoring for emergencies involving dangerous goods since the derailment.
Statement from Canadian National
Following the TSB report, Canadian National Railway issued this statement Wednesday:
“CN is committed to running the safest railway in North America and to learning lessons from every incident to improve safety.
Extensive preventative measures have been taken and capital investments have been added to our annual maintenance program since 2014 to help reduce the risk of incidents. Our safety statistics have considerably improved since then and we continue to push forward.
We also actively implement leading-edge technologies to mitigate risk through increased monitoring of track and equipment, as well as ongoing data analysis to identify potential risks before accidents happen.
Two CN emergency responders, both industrial firefighters wearing personal protective equipment, used a fusee to produce a controlled flash fire to eliminate flammable vapors and allow clean-up work to safely continue at the scene.
This was conducted in coordination with local fire and regulatory officials, who were on site. In the weeks that followed, as with all incidents, CN’s dangerous goods officers reviewed the response practices taken during the incident in order to improve emergency response.”