|Ottawa Citizen February 26|
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.