|Ottawa Citizen 25 February 1985|
Crack in rail line suspected cause of crash
PETAWAWA Workers are clearing away a jumble of rail cars that carried dangerous chemicals in the wake of a derailment Sunday that forced the evacuation of about 500 people from their homes.
The residents of a nearby trailer park and subdivision were allowed to return almost 11 hours after the 7:45 a.m. derailment of a CP Rail freight train when the smouldering cargo of sulphuric acid was declared harmless.
By 6:30 p.m., when residents were allowed to return to their homes, cranes had been moved in to clear the burned-out wreckage and CP Rail officials were checking out a crack in the rail line as a possible cause of the accident.
There is still no estimate of the damage.
Meanwhile, CP Rail spokesmen maintain all safety requirements were adhered to. The train was operating within speed limits at 70 kmh and tankers carrying dangerous chemicals were separated from each other, they said.
There was only one injury as the westbound 86-car train went off the tracks within about 30 metres of the astonished residents of Pine Hurst trailer park. A crew member riding in the caboose suffered minor injuries.
Bob Rantz, clerk of Petawawa, estimated that 500 residents of the trailer park, Portage Place subdivision east of the train wreck and portions of Petawawa Township west of the de-railment temporarily moved out of their homes.
But fire and police officials here say they have no accurate figures on the number of residents involved.
"We're attempting to make up a list of the evacuated residents for CP officials today," Rantz said.
The line will remain out of service while up to a half-kilometre of track is replaced and repairs are made to a bridge over the Petawawa River that was damaged in the derailment.
The line is expected to back in service by Tuesday. A daily VIA Rail train running between Ottawa and Sudbury, which also uses the line, has been cancelled until repairs are completed. VIA has set up a bus service in the meantime.
Freight traffic has been rerouted to Canadian National lines and other CP lines to the south.
The train left Montreal earlier Sunday and was bound for a number of stops in Western Canada.
The investigation by six Canadian Transport Commission investigators from the federal transport department continues.
At this point, a crack in the rail line remains the most likely cause, said commission spokesman Peter Schnobb, adding the cracked rail may have given way under the weight of the train, causing the 26 cars and two locomotives to jump the track.
Schnobb said it is not uncommon for the steel rails to quick thaw, as the area has had over the past few days.
Tina Burgess, 11, whose trailer home is close to the rail line, witnessed the crash. "When I looked outside, the cars were wobbling, shaking from side to side. I ran to wake up my father and all the cars started flying. They were crashing everywhere."
Larry Proctor, 60, heard a rumbling at 7:45 a.m., looked out the window and saw the rail cars "flipping like matchboxes until the weight finally stopped it."
"My wife says she's not going to bed any more unless she has all her clothes on."
Proctor called the fire department before he fled his trailer home.
The train jumped the track in heavy rain and thick fog, leaving 26 cars strewn along 300 metres of track.
The wreckage caught fire, and dense smoke billowed throughout nearby neighborhoods, causing the evacuation of Portage Place subdivision east of the train wreck and portions of Petawawa Township west of the derailment temporarily moved out of their homes.
Evacuated residents of the subdivision left their homes on Lisa Crescent, Hilda Street, and Russell Road.
People who live on certain sections of Selkirk and Doran Street were also advised to leave their homes temporarily.
Few of the displaced families went to the Petawawa Civic Centre, where emergency accommodation and refreshments were offered during Sunday's crisis.
Fire officials were not certain what caused the fire, although Arnold O'Kane, fire chief co-ordinating the operation, said it might have been friction between the mangled rail cars.
People were evacuated from an area up to 3.5 kilometres from the crash.
Firefighters played their hoses on the cars throughout the day and it was not until evening that the fire was out.
Firefighters were concerned the rain and water from their equipment might react with the cargo in one car, five 40-pound barrels of liquid sulphuric acid that could form a toxic gas and cause vomiting and severe damage to eyes and lungs.
As well, emergency workers feared winds would shift and pick up from six to 22 kmh, thereby fanning the feared acrid fumes toward nearby CFB Petawawa and the major portion of the village, with a combined population of about 10,000.
By 1 p.m., they had the fire under control and when they opened the boxcar with the sulphuric acid later in the day, they found it had burned off, apparently causing no harmful fumes.
CP Rail spokesman John Cox in Toronto said it posed no serious health hazard unless inhaled from close range and police said later that air samples taken by federal environment department officials showed no sulphuric acid was released.
Officials had considered a second evacuation involving up to 3,000 area residents and base personnel, but after an emergency meeting with CP Rail and transport commission representatives Sunday afternoon, it was decided not to evacuate more residents or base personnel.
Rantz said most of those who did evacuate visited friends and family in other parts of Petawawa.
Two tanks containing 20,000 gallons of flammable low-grade lubricant oil presented some concern and Pembroke's water filtration plant was closed down after environment ministry officials discovered a low-grade petroleum oil leaking into a ditch that drains into the Petawawa and Ottawa Rivers.
But Pembroke Mayor Angus Campbell said the city has more than three million gallons of water in reserve that can last until the end of the week.
The city filtration plant pumps between 300,000 to 400,000 gallons of water to city residents and parts of neighboring Stafford Township daily.
Campbell said officials had prepared to implement a prepared emergency plan on Sunday if the situation worsened and forced 10,000 Petawawa residents to vacate their homes.
Soldier manages to sleep through nearby derailment
Lloyd Newton slept through a train derailing in his backyard Sunday.
The soldier was awakened by pounding on his trailer home door and it wasn't until he opened his door, about 50 yards from the tracks, that he noticed there was something wrong.
"I didn't hear a thing," Newton said.
Like others, Newton was invited to spend Sunday at the community centre, but chose to visit friends and relatives instead.
He returned to his home after 6:30 p.m. Sunday, when emergency officials decided there was no longer a danger.
Dale Morris, 34, an army wife, of Lisa Crescent, was watching television with her son and heard, nothing.
When she looked outside, she saw smoke rolling down her street. ; She said after hearing about the disaster in Bhopal, India, she wasn't about to take any chances. She got out fast. Thousands died in Bhopal late last year when a deadly pesticide leaked from storage tanks at a nearby Union Carbide plant.
About 100 of the people who were evacuated spent the day at Petawawa Civic Centre. The operator of the snack bar at the centre said he had to go to several stores in the village to buy enough hamburgers and hot dogs to feed those evacuated.
The village paid for the food, but hopes it will get the money back from CP Rail.
Those at the centre spent their day watching television, playing games and watching a hockey game at the arena.
Six people who live on Lisa Crescent described the evacuation as orderly and without panic.
Their only complaint was about the lack of information they received throughout the day about the progress of the clean-up.
Renee Watson, 33, a resident of the Petawawa subdivision, south of the train wreck, said she was asleep and thought she was dreaming the train derailed.
Watson said some area residents paid no attention to the noise, having become accustomed to practice drills, flares, smoke and guns from military manoeuvres nearby.
"You always think it will happen somewhere else, but you never suspect it'll happen here," she said.
Ottawa Citizen 26 February 1985
Luck, experience helped limit impact of crash.
A combination of luck and lessons learned from the 1979 Mississauga train wreck prevented Sunday's CP Rail derailment at Petawawa from being more serious.
Canadian Transport Commission spokesman Peter Schnobb said two tank cars that normally carry propane and another that normally carries methyl alcohol were empty when the freight train left the tracks.
"There was the potential for something much bigger," Schnobb said Monday.
As it was, it took 11 hours for 50 firefighters to bring the blaze under control so 500 people could return to their homes.
CP spokesman Herb Brooks said today the line was expected to be open by 6 p.m. this evening.
Schnobb said even if those tank cars had been full, numerous safety precautions resulting from the Mississauga accident would have reduced the danger of a disaster.
Rail carriers must now separate tankers carrying dangerous chemicals from cars carrying flammable products. The positioning of cars on the derailed train was checked and met the requirements.
Chemical carriers are also now more resistant to damage and fire because of structural improvements made to the cars. "We can no longer duplicate Mississauga ," said Schnobb.
A six-member transport commission investigation team is on the scene and a report will follow. No date has been set for its release.
Preliminary damage estimates put the cost at $350,000.
At this point, a crack in the rail just east of the derailment remains the most likely cause, said Schnobb, adding that the broken rail may have given way under the weight of the train.
Schnobb said it is not uncommon for the rails to crack, especially following a quick thaw like the one that hit the area over the past few days.
He said the track is inspected by the railway company on a regular basis and the CTC carries out periodic reviews as well.
Schnobb didn't know when the line was last checked. That type of information will come but in the investigation.
The issue came up in the House of Commons Monday when Liberal MP Len Hopkins asked Transport Minister Don Mazankowski for a review on how often rail inspections were carried out.
Mazankowski said no action would be taken until the investigation is complete.
Officials said the derailment could have resulted in a much larger evacuation.
Firefighters were concerned the rain and water from their equipment could have reacted with the cargo in one car carrying 200 pounds of sulphuric acid, A toxic gas could have formed, causing vomiting and severe damage to eyes and lungs.
As it turned out, fire officials found when they opened the boxcar that the sulphuric acid had burned off without causing any dangerous fumes.
Lubricant oil also caused concern. Pembroke's water filtration plant was closed after environment ministry officials discovered the oil leaking into a ditch that drains into the Petawawa and Ottawa rivers.
The plant resumed normal operations early Monday. Environment ministry spokesman Andrew Policy said only a small amount of oil leaked into the Petawawa River, posing no threat to the water supply.
The 86-car train was traveling westbound at 70 kilometres an hour at the time of the 7:45 a.m. derailment. That was within recommended speed which varies according to weather conditions, geography, proximity to urban areas and track configuration.
One of four crew riding in the caboose suffered a bruised knee
About 100 CP employees worked throughout Monday and by 2:30 p.m. the track had been cleared of the 27 derailed cars. A nearby bridge, which spans the Petawawa River, needs extensive repairs with about three-quarters of the timbers in need of replacement because of damage from the derailment.
In the meantime, VIA Rail trains from Ottawa to Sudbury which use the line have been cancelled and a bus service is being provided.
CP has rerouted its freight traffic to other lines.
Derailment still echoes in trailer park.
PETAWAWA Pinehurst trailer park residents evacuated during the 27-car train derailment near here are having trouble forgetting the accident that shook them from their sleepy Sunday morning.
A steady stream of curious onlookers trudged through the water, and slush Monday to watch as mammoth cranes removed the twisted remains of the freight train from the tracks.
Some shook their heads as they looked at the boxes of bicycles that that had tumbled from one wrecked carl
Esther Jourdain, the wife of a soldier, sipped coffee and squinted into the bright sunlight as she watched the cleanup from the doorstep of her trailer home.
"I'm always thinking about trains now," she said, remembering the thundering crash of the train.
Jourdain and her husband and two children have lived in the trailer for about 10 years and have no plans to move out.
"We have to stay here. Where else would we go except the PMQ's (private married quarters) at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa," she said.
"After all, this couldn't happen again."
Others, like Ed and Mary Jane McGuey, who have an 11-month-old daughter, said trains are dangerous but they weren't upset by the derailment.
"It doesn't scare us that much. It could happen anywhere," said the 31-year-old father.
Ottawa Citizen 27 February 1985
Trains coursing the rails again after Petawawa wreck cleared
PETAWAWA Exhausted workers who have struggled to clean up Sunday's CP Rail train derailment here were rewarded Tuesday with the sight of the first train in two days thundering through the village.
The 90-car freight train clattered over about 500 metres of new track toward Montreal, officially returning the line to service.
The repair crews "all sounded pretty elated' said CP spokesman Herb Brooks.
A few hours after the early-morning derailment, cranes were brought in to move the 26 cars that left the track, sparking a fire in one car containing 200 pounds of sulphuric acid.
Although as many as 500 people left the area, emergency workers later said the acid posed no danger.
The blaze was out by Monday morning and wreckage was removed from the track later that day.
Workers have also repaired a railway bridge damaged in the derailment less than a kilometre from the residential areas of Petawawa.
Officials suspect the derailment was caused by a cracked rail that broke under the weight of the train.
Ottawa Citizen 5 March 1985
New road sought to provide escape after derailment
Residents of a subdivision near the site of the recent Petawawa train derailment convinced Petawawa Township council Monday to study escape routes for emergency evacuation.
Emotions ran high before about 10 residents of Hoffman Subdivision won council's agreement to look into the possibility of a second road.
New Street, the only access to the subdivision, crosses the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks to link with Highway 17.
Residents of the 67-lot development said that creates a safety hazard because the area can be isolated if the track is blocked.
Reeve Jim Jones told residents that they should have been aware of the access-road situation when they bought homes in the subdivision.
He said council would examine the land it now owns to see if a road could be built for emergencies.
Jones at first vetoed the idea of building a new road because of the cost, but later said a road that would serve the subdivision might be built as part of the township's nearby industrial park.
Coun. Alex Campbell will ex amine the township's roads and property to devise a plan satisfactory to the residents.
Two residents also argued an alternate route would improve convenience as well.
They said they had often waited in their cars for up to two hours while trains separated them from their families in the subdivision.
Group spokesman Aileen Power said if New Street were ever blocked by a train derailment similar to the one in Petawawa on Feb. 23, the only route to safety would be through the deep snow south of the subdivision.
She urged the township to set up an emergency plan that would facilitate speedy evacuation if necessary.
"Most of us came here not to blame council, but to ask for help . . . We're in a situation that's really dangerous," said subdivision resident Robbie Robinson.
A former councillor, Robinson said the issue of safe secondary access wasn't given serious consideration when residents brought similar concerns to council twice before.
"If the train wreck that happened in Petawawa two weeks ago had happened at New Street, we all would have been running out in the snow," Robinson said.