St. Lazare train derailment blamed on maintenance error


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A February 2019 train derailment near St. Lazare is being blamed on the wrong kind of connection bar being installed between rail tracks.

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A February 2019 train derailment near St. Lazare is being blamed on the wrong kind of connection bar being installed between rail tracks.

The report into the Feb. 16, 2019, derailment northwest of Brandon was released on Friday. A total of 815,000 litres of oil spilled from 17 breached rail cars in the countryside.

According to the report, a compromise joint bar, which is used to join two rails of different sizes, was mistakenly installed instead of a standard joint bar. The two types of joint bars look similar, but the joint was unstable and loosened over time.

The Canadian Press Excavators work at the site of a train derailment 10 kilometres south of St. Lazare, Man., on Saturday, Feb.16, 2019.

“In this case, within six weeks that joint had loosened and failed,” said Rob Johnston, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigator in charge of the case.

Fatigue built up over the six weeks and was easy for investigators to see, he said.

As a result of the derailment, CN Rail now requires compromise joint bars to be spray-painted royal blue by the supplier, rather than by the crew in the field, he said. It makes compromise joint bars more easily differentiated from regular ones.

“There’s been substantial safety action resulting from this and several other crude oil derailments that occurred over the following year … so there’s been some action taken,” he said, adding Transport Canada ordered companies to develop new rules for track safety and maintenance.

The route the St. Lazare train was on is a “key route,” which means it carries dangerous goods.

Investigators also did lots of work to evaluate the train cars, he said, which were better than the type of cars that derailed in the Lac-Mégantic derailment. Forty-seven people were killed in the 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

The cars aren’t perfect, but there were improvements that made a difference.

“In order to be safe, you need to make sure your entire system is safe. That includes the track infrastructure as well as having better quality tank cars or freight cars for operation.”

While the derailment caused oil to spill, there was no fire after the crash. That let investigators take a closer look at the cars than if things had been destroyed in the fire.

There were a number of factors in the lack of fire, Johnston said, including the cold temperature at the time and the fact the cars crashed on an embankment.


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