PLASTER ROCK, N.B. – A sudden wheel or axle failure caused a freight train to derail in northwestern New Brunswick, leading to a large fire of crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas that continues to burn, a CN spokesman said Thursday.
Jim Feeny said a preliminary investigation indicates a failure of a wheel or axle or both on the 13th car caused 16 more cars near the rear of the train to go off the tracks late Tuesday in Wapske, near Plaster Rock.
“We believe that the wheel and axle failure is the cause,” he said in a telephone interview. “The focus of the investigation will be what caused the sudden failure of the wheel or wheel and axle combination and when did it occur.”
Feeny said that breakdown then caused the brakes to be applied and make the 122-car train come to a sudden stop, as the braking system is supposed to do.
The federal Transportation Safety Board has sent investigators to the scene. An official with the agency said Wednesday that preliminary information from the company and the RCMP indicates the train’s brakes came on unexpectedly.
“The preliminary details that we received indicate that while the train was proceeding it had experienced an undesired brake application,” Daniel Holbrook, manager of head office and western regional operations for the safety board, said from Gatineau, Que. “The train then came to a stop.”
He said the crew went to inspect the train and found that the 13th car behind the locomotives had derailed and noticed the axle had failed, but investigators said at the time they didn’t know what role that might have played in the derailment. Holbrook said investigators didn’t know on Wednesday the sequence of events and which car derailed first.
Feeny said the investigation will look at why the axle or wheel broke and whether that failure could have been spotted by detectors the train moves over along the track that are used to identify potential problems, such as mechanical issues with wheels or dragging equipment.
CN (TSX:CNR) president Claude Mongeau said Wednesday that the train was inspected in Montreal as per regulation before it left that city for an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B., and that officials would want to review the data from those detectors.
Feeny said three cars carrying LPG and crude oil from western Canada continued to burn Thursday, but at a “considerably smaller rate” than when the accident occurred at around 7 p.m. about 150 kilometres northwest of Fredericton. The priority for crews was to settle on a plan to extinguish the fire and allow about 150 residents who were evacuated to return to their homes.
The 13th car was not burning, which allowed inspectors to get a look at it. Aerial images of the derailment showed a jumble of cars strewn across the tracks in a wooded area with fire and smoke billowing from the wreckage.
New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization said there have been no injuries. The Health Department said as a precaution, people in the area with private wells should not consume their water.
Feeny said some residents were allowed to temporarily return to the homes Wednesday to briefly check on pets and the condition of their residences and will likely be allowed to go back in briefly Thursday.