No clear cause yet in Strathroy train derailment as TSB investigators take closer look at two cars

Train derailment in Strathroy.
Train derailment in Strathroy. Travis Dolynny/AM980

Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigators probing last week’s early morning freight train derailment in Strathroy say while no clear cause has emerged yet in the incident, there is still much work to be done in the investigation, including taking a closer look at the first two cars that left the tracks.

Thirteen cars of a long freight train derailed in the centre of town around 4:20 a.m. on July 19, snarling vehicular traffic at several railway crossings and disrupting passenger train service between London and Sarnia for several days.

No injuries were reported in the incident, but one car leaked a small amount of petro alkylate, an environmentally sensitive product used in the manufacturing and preparation of other products, including plastics. Another car had residual liquefied petroleum gas, CN Rail officials said.

READ MORE: TSB investigators deployed to scene of freight train derailment in Strathroy

TSB investigators were deployed to the scene shortly after the incident occurred and have recently completed necessary on-site work, said Rob Johnston, Central Region Manager for the TSB’s Rail/Pipeline Investigations Branch, who noted that there was still “a lot of work to be done.”

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“We have a process that we follow for every investigation,” he said. “That includes evaluating the condition of the rolling stock, the condition of the track, and the operation of the train. We look to evaluate all those factors in every occurrence that we deal with, and this one’s no different.”

While no particular thing has stood out as the possible cause of the derailment, Johnston said investigators will be taking a closer look at the first two cars that left the tracks — a covered hopper loaded with cement and an empty tank car.

He added they’re looking at the potential for multiple causation factors which are sometimes more complex to deal with.

“We suspect it’s the first car, that’s yet to be determined,” he said. “We’re still going to be doing other work and analysis to confirm that, but we actually have two cars that we’re going to be taking a closer look at later.”

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“It’s part of the investigation process, you need to identify which was the first car off, and what was likely going on with that car at the time,” he continued. “That’s what’s going to take some time to determine.”

Track damage
Track damage Travis Dolynny/AM980
Train derailment in Strathroy.
Train derailment in Strathroy. Travis Dolynny/AM980

Investigators will likely conduct a dynamic computer simulation to examine all factors and forces involved in the incident, he said.

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“For these types of occurrences there are certain inputs that are required and you can get some outputs out of that that are useful in helping to nail down the cause a little more precisely,” Johnston said of the computer simulation program.

READ MORE: CP Rail crew member awake for 23 hours before Calgary derailment: TSB

While there is no exact timeline for when the TSB’s report will be made public, Johnston said they typically like to have reports done within a year to 450 days.

“If we can do it sooner, we’ll do it sooner, if it takes longer it takes longer,” he said. “We need to be complete and thorough with everything that we look at.”

— With files from Natalie Lovie and Travis Dolynny