June 27, 2013 7:44 pm
Updated: December 17, 2014 9:56 am

CP officials say Bonnybrook Bridge had been inspected 18 times since flooding


UPDATE at 5:50 P.M. 

CALGARY- In a news conference on Thursday afternoon, the general manager of communications and public affairs for CP explained the cause of a train derailment in southeast Calgary, that led to traffic chaos around the flood-weary city.

The Bonnybrook train bridge over the Bow River partially collapsed around 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, with six rail cars on it. The 11,000 foot long train originated in Edmonton, and was bound for St. Paul, Minnesota.

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“Despite numerous vigilant and beyond regulatory inspections of the bridge, one of the four piers which support it experienced scouring on the bottom of the pier that was underwater,” said Mark Seland. “This occurred during the increased flows of the last several days. Because the scouring was at the bottom, it made it impossible to inspect and detect this problem. This caused the bridge to sag in the location of the scoured pier, leading to the derailment of the train on the bridge.”

He added that the bridge has been inspected 18 times since the flooding began, and says the incident has nothing to do with recent layoffs.

“We have the same number of bridge inspectors today as we had prior to layoffs…we reviewed that with the mayor this afternoon.”

Bruce Burrell, chief of CEMA, said the evacuation zone has shrunk, meaning some roadways have reopened.

“There has been no spillage into the river at this time, that we’re aware of.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he had concerns about the timing of the bridge inspection in relation to the recent flood that swamped the city, and wondered why railways are exempt from municipal regulations.

“How is it we don’t have regulatory authority over this, but it’s my guys down there risking their lives to fix it?” Nenshi asked. “When was that bridge inspected? Why was it not inspected after Saturday? Remember, on Saturday the Bow River was still running higher than anyone had ever seen in their lifetimes.”

Watch: CP Rail officials press conference – 4:00 p.m. MT

CP spokesman Ed Greenberg would not comment on the mayor’s criticisms, but said the company has solid rail safety and maintenance programs.

“CP has an extensive inspection and maintenance program for all of our bridges, structures and track infrastructure. That is a priority of this railway, a priority that will not change,” he said. “Our company will be conducting an investigation into what happened here and will also be co-operating with the Transportation Safety Board.”

There are six train cars on the bridge, and there were fears that the structural damage could cause it to fall into the water – or that its cargo could leak.

Acting Fire Chief Ken Uzeloc said each individual rail car has been tethered to a stabilization train.

“With that in place, we feel fairly comfortable that if something was to happen to the remainder of bridge, the rail cars would be secure in this location and not end up floating down the river,” he said at a 2 p.m. MT press conference.

As a result, Deerfoot Trail and Barlow Trail were reopened for the evening rush hour.

The cargo in five of the train cars is petroleum distillate, a product that is used as a diluting agent in heavy oil. This product is also used as a solvent used in metal polishes, paint thinner, oil-based stains and paint – among other things. It could be flammable or combustible.

The sixth car is empty but with a ethylene glycol residue.

Minister of Transport Denis Lebel said the government remains concerned about the situation and the environment, and has sent a Transportation of Dangerous Goods inspector to the site. In a statement, he said Transport Canada is increasing oversight in southern Alberta as a precautionary measure.

“The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is onsite to conduct a full investigation to determine the cause of the accident,” read a statement from Lebel’s office. “A Transport Canada Ministerial Observer will be present to report back on the investigation’s progress. Should any deficiencies be identified, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action.”

Officials have a plan in place to remove the remaining train cars, and have now completed the first step (for two of the remaining cars) and the second step below.

“We’re going to pump out the three on the downside first, then decide whether we need to do the other two or if we can just pull them out,” said Uzeloc.

Plan to remove train cars:

– 1st Step: Secure remaining rail cars, to ensure that if the bridge does collapse the train cars will not be floating down the river.
– 2nd Step: Inspect a parallel bridge which runs next to the impacted one, and make sure it is safe.
– 3rd Step: Run additional rail cars and pumps along parallel bridge, and use them to offload cargo from rail cars on damaged bridge.
– 4th Step: Remove rail cars (now empty) from damaged bridge with the use of a crane.

Train crew are safe, and not on the train.

CP Rail crews called 911 early Thursday morning, after the train derailed due to the partial-collapse of the bridge. The majority of the train made it across the bridge before the derailment.

The bridge is a federal bridge, operated by CP, and isn’t one that City of Calgary officials would have inspected after the flooding.

CP says the bridge was inspected by a qualified bridge inspector on Saturday. The track was inspected on Monday, and follow-up inspections were scheduled.

In a news conference on Thursday, Mayor Nenshi assured Calgarians that city bridges are safe, and have been inspected three times since flooding. He says they are also built differently than the Bonnybrook Bridge, which is old. Nenshi also says City of Calgary bridges are built eight feet into bedrock, which the Bonnybrook bridge is not.

Police have cleared a half-mile radius around the bridge and warn it could be dangerous to be nearby. Although Ogden is mainly an industrial area, some residential homes have been evacuated.

PICTURE: A 1/2 mile radius around the bridge has been evacuated

Calgary Police, EMS, Fire crews on scene at structural failure of rail bridge over Bow River

The City of Calgary

The exact cause of the bridge collapse is unknown, and officials can’t yet say if it’s related to recent and wide-spread flooding in Calgary.

Officials say the high water in area waterways would make it very challenging for them to contain any leaks from the train cargo, as river booms would be tough to deploy.

The Bonnybrook waste water treatment plant has been evacuated as crews deal with the train derailment. Mayor Nenshi says crews were risking their lives to keep the site operational.

Watch: Mayor Nenshi talks about the efforts to remove rail cars from the Bonnybrook train bridge

Gallery: Ground level images of damage to the Bonnybrook train bridge

Road Closures

  • Ogden Road at 17 Street
  • Ogden Road at 50th Avenue
  • Peigan Trail at Barlow Trail
  • Highfield Crescent at 13 Street SE
  • Ogden Road at Millican Road

Due to the resulting road closures, Calgarians are asked to stay off city roads unless absolutely necessary.

Traffic congestion is hampering efforts for emergency responders as well as recovery clean-up operations.

The City of Calgary is strongly suggesting employers ask employees stay at home unless they are key to operations.

The traffic closures put in place during the incident caused main roadways to slow to a crawl during the morning commute, and had a significant impact on Calgary Transit, whose operations were already impacted by flooding.

There was limited C-Train service out of the south half of the city, which led to long line-up’s and delays on shuttle busses.

The LRT is open from Shawnessy north to Heritage station but riders must transfer to busses to get into the downtown.

It was enough to over-load the shuttle bus system at Heritage station.

GALLERY: Long line-ups to get on buses and CTrains as commuters head to work


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