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This article was published 4/1/2019 (345 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Portage la Prairie’s fire chief says locals are lucky two trains that collided Thursday didn’t explode, considering at least one was carrying hazardous goods.
"It could have been a lot worse than what happened," said Phil Carpenter, who was one of the first people on the scene when two trains heading toward each other derailed shortly before 9:30 a.m. Thursday. One of the trains leaked diesel fuel 200 metres from the Assiniboine River.
The Transportation Safety Board said Friday that the trains had collided. Earlier, CN Rail would not confirm that the two had made contact or reveal the contents each train carried — but emergency responders can access the company’s listings of train contents.
Carpenter said two of eight cars that fell off the tracks were the black tanker cars used to transport petroleum products, though both were empty. He said other ones on the westbound train did contain hazardous goods, but had stayed on the tracks.
The collision occurred on one of the busiest rail lines in Canada, at a point CN calls Nattress, just west of a bridge over the Assiniboine River, which winds toward Winnipeg. Sets of track sit on either side of the bridge, at which point they merge into a single line.
The Portage fire chief said it appeared the eastbound train hit the westbound train, though not in a head-on collision.
"The front locomotive got one of the cars going by, which created a chain effect," Carpenter suggested.
The board had not yet said whether it suspects fatigue, signal issues or conductor errors played a part in the incident.
Sources familiar with the incident, who were not authorized to speak with media, say the crew on the eastbound train suddenly noticed the oncoming westbound train across the bridge and hit the brakes.
One source claimed the eastbound train was travelling at about 55 km/h, and that crew members left the cabin through the back door, hanging onto a railing when the train made contact with the westbound train, at a speed of approximately 50 km/h.
One of the eastbound conductors suffered minor injuries, a TSB spokesman said.
Photos show two of the eastbound train’s lead locomotives plunged into a ditch, with at least one leaking diesel; a third locomotive stayed on the track.
The safety watchdog sent staff to the scene Friday.
The stretch of rail line was open to traffic by Friday evening, including Via Rail service, with all the derailed locomotives and cars removed. CN Rail is in charge of both investigating the cause and leading the cleanup, which the province is supervising.
The federal regulator said it plans to touch base with the railway: "Transport Canada takes all rail accidents very seriously and is following up with CN to verify compliance with rail-safety and transportation-of-dangerous-goods regulations," spokeswoman Marie-Anyk Côté wrote.
"Transport Canada will take appropriate action, should non-compliance be identified."
The department is under heavy scrutiny as a historic amount of crude oil is shipped on trains, to make up for delayed pipeline projects. Carpenter said he’s glad the black cars that carried oil stayed on the track.
"There were hazardous goods being transported, but none of those cars was involved in this incident, so that is a real good thing," he said.
"It’s the type of call you don’t get every day, that’s for sure."
The safety board is also probing an unrelated derailment that took place two hours later in the Rockies. A 15-car CP train derailed near Field, B.C., at the Alberta border.
Updated on Friday, January 4, 2019 at 5:14 PM CST: update with new info
January 5, 2019 at 8:33 AM: Final