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Rail fractures, defects led to fiery Gainford derailment: TSB

WATCH ABOVE: Failing tracks caused a 2013 derailment and explosion near Gainford. Fletcher Kent has more on the TSB’s report.

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 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 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 or there is a risk that utrasonic tests won’t detect flaws in the metal.

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WATCH: How common are the defects that caused Gainford derailment?

Around 1 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2013, 13 Canadian National Railway freight cars carrying propane and oil to derail near Gainford, Alta.  Four DOT 111 tank cars containing crude oil and nine DOT 112 tank cars containing propane came off the tracks at night. Two of the propane tanks were breached and started a massive fire; a third tank began to leak from its safety valve and caught fire.

About 600 feet of track was destroyed and a house right across the road from the derailment was damaged by the fire.

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.

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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB
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Photos included in TSB Gainford derailment report, Feb. 24, 2015. Courtesy: TSB

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

“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.

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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.

WATCH: TSB spokesperson offers further details on ‘rolling contact fatigue defect’

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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WATCH: TSB says rail defects caused fiery derailment near Gainford, Alberta

CN director of Public and Government Affairs Jim Feeny responded to the report on Tuesday with the following statement:

“CN thanks the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) for its work on this accident investigation, with which CN extended its full cooperation. 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. As the TSB report indicates, CN implemented a number of additional safety measures following the incident, as the TSB investigation was taking place.

These included:

  •  conducting walking inspections and rail flaw detection re-testing of all 25 mph sidings across the system
  • implementing a rail grinding program on high-speed sidings such as Gainford
  • continuing to be vigilant in our communications protocols when incidents occur, notifying all responding jurisdictions and agencies in a timely and efficient manner.

CN also thanks federal, provincial and municipal responders, notably the first-line responders from Parkland County, who worked with CN during the incident to ensure the needs of affected residents were met.”

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More to come…

With files from Karen Bartko, Global News

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