The derailment of a Via passenger train on July 5 could have been averted if local authorities and the railroad had communicated about flood waters.
That’s the finding of an investigation of the incident by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB). Two crewmen suffered minor injuries in the incident.
In the four days prior to the incident, heavy rains saturated the area. On the evening before the derailment, engineering staff from Canadian National Railway, which operates Via tracks, found culverts were diverting water as they should, the TSB said. However, unknown to the CN engineers, part of a nearby highway had already washed out. TSB concluded that once the highway was breached, excess water flowed overland and flooded the railway.
“The increased water volume eventually overwhelmed the railway culverts (three of which measured 3-feet in diameter and one of which measured 2 1/2 feet in diameter) and started to flow through the track subgrade. Eventually, the trackbed washed out, leaving the track unsupported at the occurrence location,” the TSB said.
Highway workers were unaware of the looming danger to the railway, the TSB concluded. “There was no specific indication to the highway employees that the downstream railway infrastructure could be affected by the partial washout. Neither the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure nor the railways have any protocols in place to share information when nearby or adjacent infrastructure may be at risk during periods of heavy rainfall,” the report concluded.
According to the TSB, track geometry testing and ultrasonic rail flaw detection were conducted just three days before the derailment. No “urgent or near-urgent defects” were detected within a mile of the derailment location.
Jerry Berriault, who has been with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) since 2007, was the lead investigator of the incident. He is a senior regional investigator, Central Region, based out of the Winnipeg, Manitoba, office.