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Investigation Finds High Water Linked to Fatal Train Derailment in Manitoba

April 23, 2020 4:52 PM | The Canadian Press

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By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Manitoba Train Derailment

An aerial view of the train derailment near Ponton, Man. is seen on Sept. 15, 2018 in this handout photo. A Transportation Safety Board investigation into a derailment in northern Manitoba that left one man dead and another injured found the neglected track was susceptible to heavy rain and high water levels. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

WINNIPEG — A Transportation Safety Board investigation into a fatal train derailment in northern Manitoba has found the track in the area was neglected and susceptible to heavy rain and high water levels.

The report released Thursday said there was significant rain in the summer of 2018 and water levels were high in the weeks preceding the September derailment.

Hudson Bay Railway employees inspected water at the crash site south of Thompson two days prior. It was sometime after that when water levels surged, dislodging and destroying wood box culverts under the rail bed.

The track’s rails and ties remained in place but were in fact no longer supported, said the report.

The track collapsed under the weight of the train, and three locomotives and four cars derailed.

The crew was trapped in the wreckage. About 6,800 litres of diesel fuel also leaked.

A helicopter happened to be flying over the area and spotted the train. Its pilot called 911 and police contacted a rail traffic controller who notified the rail company.

Conductor Kevin Anderson died after he was trapped for more than eight hours, and another crew member was injured.

The board’s investigation found there were major gaps in the railway’s response plan.

Its report also pointed to numerous issues with the track and the training of employees.

The rail line had been owned by U.S.-based Omnitrax since 1997. Over the years, traffic volumes declined and the company began to try and sell the line and deferred maintenance of the infrastructure, the report said.

It said the track infrastructure began to deteriorate, especially after significant flooding in 2017.

“OmniTRAX had not made any significant capital investment in HBR, despite several areas requiring work. One of these areas included the area of the derailment,” the report said.

Omnitrax also ended a beaver dam removal program and inspectors found significant beaver activity in the area of the derailment.

The Arctic Gateway Group, a public-private consortium, bought the railway in August 2018, just a month before the derailment.

The report said railway personnel who responded to the derailment “had limited previous experience in responding to an accident of this scale.

“In addition, they had not been formally trained in emergency response or in the establishment of an incident command structure.”

The railway has since updated its emergency response plans and is purchasing and upgrading communication equipment, the report said. It also brought back the beaver-control program, increased training and hired a specialist to inspect things like bridges and culverts.

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