Cause of train derailment still under investigation
Source: The Regina Leader-Post
Published: December 12th 2008

REGINA -- A Canadian Pacific Railway crew continued to pick up the pieces Friday of the CP train which derailed a night earlier near Grand Coulee.

The crews were working diligently to clean up the 30 potash railcars that derailed around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, and Mike LoVecchio, senior manager of media relations for Canadian Pacific Railway, said the cleaning process should be complete in a few days.

“We’re going to take the time necessary to do it properly,” LoVecchio said. “Not only do we want a clean site for the community, but we want to ensure that the track is safe to use again.

“In the meantime ... we have quite an extensive network of track in Saskatchewan, so we are able to reroute trains over our other tracks. Grain producers will be wanting to know that shipments are still moving.”

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. LoVecchio said the derailment didn’t pose any danger to the town or the environment. There was a small leak in one of the locomotive fuel tanks, but it was pumped out overnight and was being cleaned up Friday.

“Potash is not a regulated commodity, so there was no need to evacuate the town,” he said. “Had this been a regulated commodity, (there are) plans in place to work with the local community, and those plans would have been activated had it been necessary.”

Grand Coulee resident Jim Pratt had a front row seat to the accident. He was maintaining equipment in the fire hall when he heard a loud screeching sound. He looked outside and saw the train trying to brake.

“At first I thought maybe they hit a vehicle or hit something because his brakes just locked,” Pratt said.

He watched as 30 of the 130 railcars piled into each other and fell off the track.

“All of a sudden I realized they derailed,” he said. “I could see that there was quite a bit of commotion; snow dust flying in the air and cars coming off the tracks.”

Pratt called the RCMP, and officers arrived in the town within five minutes. His biggest concern was that he wasn’t getting any notification as to if he should inform the town to evacuate.

Resident Elizabeth Paul wasn’t a witness to the derailment, but when she saw the devastation on Friday, it reminded her of an incident years earlier. Paul explained that her car broke down on the railway tracks, near where the current derailment occurred. She exited her vehicle and called CP to get them to stop the train, but it was too late.

“It just hit the car,” she recalled. “It took two tow trucks to pull it out.”

Paul said the train is the most annoying part of living in the town. The train whistles wake her in the night, her house shakes when trains pass, and she said they travel too fast.

“They rip through here all hours of the night. They’re so heavy, so help me, that when they go by the house itself, it’s like an earthquake the way it rocks. I’m not surprised that it derailed,” Paul said.

Thursday’s train accident reminded Paul of a previous derailment near the town in 1978. She believes it’s only a matter of time before something serious happens.

However, LoVecchio would argue that two derailments in 30 years is actually an enviable safety record. According to him, tracks across the network are inspected weekly, through visual and computerized track inspections. Train crews are also informed to report any concerns they have with track conditions.

“CP is North American’s safest railroad, it has been for the eight of the last 10 years,” LoVecchio said. “Something of this magnitude is extremely infrequent.”