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Saskatchewan train

Andreas Gryba was working on his combine in the yard when he noticed a large plume of black smoke rising in the distance. The 21-year-old drove onto the highway to see what was happening. He assumed someone was just burning stubble; instead he discovered 26 rail cars piled like matchsticks across the tracks.


“You could see a big cloud of black smoke and flames,” Gryba said. His hometown of Clair was only a kilometre from the scattered cars and billowing flames.


“My mom went and talked to the CN guys when they got there and they told her to leave because they were scared that there was going to be something blowing up,” he said. Wadena RCMP was phoned at 10:39 a.m. and by 3:30 p.m. a command post was created to organize the provincial and CN emergency crews.


A state of emergency was declared and an evacuation was ordered by the local R.M. of Lakeview.


CN reports that the train, travelling at 40 mph, was carrying 100 cars en route to Saskatoon when it derailed 21 km west of Wadena. The Transportation Safety Board reports that the train-initiated brake application occurred; of the 100 cars, six were carrying hazardous goods including petroleum distillate, sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid. The derailment caused the petroleum distillate to catch on fire and lead to the subsequent evacuation of Clair and every other residence in a 5 km radius of the incident.


“Accidents of this sort are rare, but we take them very seriously,” CN spokesperson Jim Feeny said. The flames were caused by two cars carrying petroleum distillate, with some reports of flames reaching 30 metres high. The cause of the incident is being investigated by the Transportation Safety Board. The board declined to comment.


“It was just a matter of time,” Gryba said. He has been concerned about the state of the railway tracks since last year.


“There are a lot of busted railroad ties along the track and there’s spikes hanging out. It just looks like the track isn’t being taken care of,” Gryba said. “This track wasn’t meant from the traffic that it’s getting now. To start with they were taking caution, going slow, but now they’re just going wide open.”


However, Feeny said that CN ensures that its line meet the standards.


“The rail ties are replaced over time. They are installed and inspected and once they reach a certain level of wear they are taken out. So it is entirely normal to see some rail ties with a degree of wear.”


He said a visual inspection was completed on Monday, a day before the derailment, where no problems were identified.


“There are standards that have to be met, Transport Canada standards and CN’s mandate is to meet or exceed those standards.”


As for the increase in traffic, Feeny said the entire rail network is seeing more and more cars on the line.


More than 30 people were evacuated and no injuries were reported. CN and the Ministry of Environment are currently testing the impact of the incident. They’re examining everything from the effects on animals and air quality to sampling the drinking water.


The site is now deemed stable and crews are working to get the railway back on track. Gryba said his family was able to return home Tuesday night after an environmentalist told them it was safe.


“It didn’t just happen; there was a long line of stuff that led to it.”