Flawed track repair caused crude train derailment, TSB finds

by Brittany Hobson The Canadian Press (CPSTF)

An investigation into a train derailment that caused a large crude oil spill in western Manitoba has found the tracks failed because of a repair error nearly two months earlier.

An investigation report released Friday by the Transportation Safety Board says maintenance crews repaired part of the track after finding a broken joint bar, but replaced it with the wrong piece, which resulted in part of the rail line becoming misaligned and unstable.

The report says that led to the joint bars failing beneath the train as it travelled along the track near St-Lazare, Man., on Feb. 16, 2019.

The Canadian National train, with 108 tank cars loaded with petroleum crude oil and two others loaded with sand, was travelling east when an emergency brake was applied.

Major oil spill

The board says 37 of the cars derailed and 17 of those were ruptured, which resulted in the release of about 815,000 litres of oil.

There were no injuries, fires or evacuations, but more than 300 metres of the track was damaged or destroyed.

The investigation also found there were five other areas of concern along the rail line – all within 15 metres of each other – that indicated the track was deteriorating.

Thee train was following Transport Canada guidelines, but its speed contributed to the number of cars derailed and to the derailment’s overall severity, the report says.

The safety agency issued recommendations to Transport Canada following the derailment and two others in 2020. They included further review of and modification to train speeds and enhanced track standards.

In response, the federal organization revised its safety rules to include a number of improvements related to the operation of trains carrying dangerous goods and to track infrastructure.

CN now requires certain repair parts be spray-painted royal blue to help differentiate them from similar-looking ones.

The railway said its welding program has replaced joints by installing continuous welded rail on the corridor of track between Melville, Sask., and Winnipeg.

“Safety is a core value at CN,” the company said in a statement. “Following this incident, CN took corrective measures and now requires suppliers to identify different types of joint bars, used to join segments of track, at manufacturing.”

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship