Track washout led to September 2018 fatal derailment near Ponton, Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba, 23 April 2020 — In its investigation report (R18W0237) released today, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) identified a number of factors that led to a track washout near Ponton, Manitoba, and caused the derailment of a Hudson Bay Railway (HBR) train in September 2018.
On 15 September 2018, an HBR freight train was proceeding northward at 25 mph on the Wekusko Subdivision at about 16:30 local time when the three head-end locomotives and the first four cars derailed after encountering a track washout near Ponton, Manitoba. All three locomotives were destroyed and the crew was trapped in the cab of the head-end locomotive. The conductor died of his injuries on site about 8.5 hours after the accident. The locomotive engineer was extricated 1.5 hours later and airlifted to a hospital in Thompson, Manitoba, in critical condition. The locomotive fuel tanks ruptured and released about 6800 litres of diesel fuel.
The investigation found that, although the requisite track inspections had been conducted recently and water was flowing through the culverts at that time, subsequent rising water levels and uneven ponding of water against the raised embankment led to the infrastructure failure. The area had experienced heavy precipitation throughout the summer which contributed to the high water conditions. Furthermore, the reduction of HBR’s beaver control program left the track infrastructure vulnerable to a washout, particularly in situations when a beaver dam is breached.
The remote location and difficult terrain delayed access to the site, while the release of diesel fuel, the potential of a liquefied petroleum gas release, and the need for a hazardous material assessment to ensure that any dangerous goods present were within acceptable levels all contributed to extending the time required for the emergency response.
However, the investigation identified gaps in the emergency response to the accident. HBR’s emergency response plan had not been reviewed by the regulator and did not set forth any processes or procedures for responding to a train derailment, particularly one that involved dangerous goods and employee injuries/fatalities, occurring in a remote location. If regulatory oversight of a railway’s emergency response plan is not conducted, potential gaps may not be identified and addressed, increasing the risk that emergency events will not be responded to in the most effective manner. Safety management and oversight is an issue on the TSB Watchlist 2018.
Following the occurrence, HBR inspected all the culverts on all subdivisions and instated a more comprehensive beaver control program. The company also updated its security and emergency response plans as well as its safety management system. Additionally, the company modified its communications policy and requirements for crews to check in with the rail traffic controller every hour when operating in what is known as dark territory.
See the investigation page for more information.
The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.
For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
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