Rail fractures, defects led to fiery derailment west of Edmonton: TSB report

A report says rail fractures and undetected defects led to a fiery train derailment that forced people west of Edmonton to flee their homes.

EDMONTON — A report says rail fractures and undetected defects led to a fiery train derailment that forced people west of Edmonton to flee their homes.

The Transportation Safety Board says 13 cars carrying propane and oil on the westbound Canadian National (TSX:CNR) freight train derailed in October 2013 because there were rail breaks along a curve in a siding near the community of Gainford.

One of the derailed propane tank cars was punctured and exploded into a fireball.

The board says the rail in the Gainford siding that failed was near the end of its life span and was inspected two months before the derailment.

The report says railways need to keep the surface of rails clean and smooth or there is a risk that ultrasonic tests won’t detect flaws in the metal.

Although no one was hurt, more than 120 people were forced to evacuate the hamlet for four days. Almost 200 metres of track was destroyed and a house directly north of the derailment was damaged.

George Fowler, a civil engineer with the safety board, said there are as many as two dozen problems that rails can suffer, but “transverse defects” such as the ones found at Gainford are the trickiest to deal with.

“They are probably the worst defect because you can’t seem them with the naked eye and generally you only find them through ultrasonic testing or if they break in service,” he said Tuesday at a news conference.

CN said since the derailment it has brought in new safety measures for rail sidings such as Gainford.

These include conducting walking inspections and retests of all similar sidings across its rail system.

CN said it now grinds the rails used on sidings to keep them smooth and free of rust. This helps control wear on the metal and ensure that the ultrasonic devices used to test rails can detect flaws.

“The industry and all Canadians benefit greatly by the rail industry and the federal regulator working together to fully understand how and why transportation incidents occur,” Jim Feeny, a CN spokesman, said in an email.

Rod Shaigec, mayor of Parkland County, has said it was fortunate that no one died. He hopes the report will lead to better safety inspections of rail lines.

Former Gainford resident Jeanette Hall, whose home was most badly damaged, still gets spooked by the sound of a freight trains. She said Monday that she would like the Transportation Safety Board report to lead to better rail industry safety.

Last week, the federal government announced it will bolster rail safety inspections, demand higher insurance liability from small carriers and create a disaster relief fund paid for by oil producers.

The measures are in response to a July 2013 explosion and fire in Lac-Megantic, Que., where a crude-laden train derailed, killing 47 people and incinerating the downtown core.

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