January 9, 2014 2:43 pm

Cracked wheel or broken rail could be cause of train derailment: TSB

WATCH: TSB investigator Guy Laporte says a cracked wheel and broken wheel were found at site of derailment

PLASTER ROCK, N.B. – A senior investigator with the federal Transportation Safety Board said their preliminary investigation revealed a cracked wheel or broken rail could be to blame for Tuesday’s train derailment near Plaster Rock, N.B.

Guy Laporte said although his team uncovered the new issues, it was still too early to rule definitively on the cause of the crash.

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The CN freight train was carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas when it derailed in Wapske.

READ MORE: Crude oil spills are bigger from trains than pipelines

Laporte said the cracked wheel is up to 4,000 feet away from where the wreckage was burning.

He said the train was inspected in Montreal and would have passed several track inspectors, which will be a focus of the investigation.

CN has said although the the wreckage still burning, the fire is under control. Laporte said he didn’t know how much longer it would be burning because his team hasn’t been able to get close enough to assess it.

WATCH: Rail cars continue to burn 48 hours after a CN freight train derailed in northern New Brunswick. Emily Baron Cadloff reports.

Laporte said they will try to get close enough on Thursday to take pictures for their investigation, which is expected to last for at least a few more days. He said the bad weather forecast for the weekend likely wouldn’t affect their timeline.

CN spokesman Jim Feeny says the company believes a wheel and axle failure was the cause of the derailment based on its preliminary investigation, but Laporte said it’s premature to determine that.

No one was injured, but about 150 people living in nearby homes were told to leave soon after the train derailed.

Train accidents caused by broken or cracked wheels are fairly rare: There were 13 such accidents (one of which also involved a broken axle) in Canada between January 1, 2008 and March 15, 2012. None resulted in injuries or deaths, according to a , according to a Transportation Safety Board database of rail accidents, and most were minor derailments with minimal damage. CN trains were involved in 11 of those 13 incidents.

Accidents caused by broken axles are also relatively rare. Between January 1, 2008 and March 15, 2012, only 12 accidents were identified as being caused by a broken or stuck axle. There were over 4500 accidents, of all causes, in total during that time period.

None of the 12 accidents resulted in deaths or injuries. Most were detected before significant damage was done, and resulted in a simple derailment of a single car. The most serious incident, in April 2009, occurred on a CP freight train. The crew detected and extinguished a fire in the locomotive, which was later determined to be caused by a locked axle.

CN was involved in five of the 12 axle-related incidents. Canada’s other major rail carrier, CP, was also involved in five such incidents.

With files from The Canadian Press

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