Strathroy train derailment: Derailment cleanup under way

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Heavy machinery tore apart damaged train cars beside the tracks in Strathroy Thursday, as a freight train slowly rumbled past.

The clean-up effort continued a day after 13 cars from a 120-car CN freight train left the tracks in an early-morning derailment.

Although nobody was hurt, the derailment prompted Via Rail to suspend service between Sarnia and Toronto — now restored — and raised questions about railway safety in Southwestern Ontario railroad communities.

Many people in Strathroy, a town bisected by an east-west rail line, considered the derailment a reality of living alongside tracks.

But Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, to whose city the derailed train was travelling, doesn’t see it that way.

“I also realize the complexity of operating a rail system across North American is huge, but it doesn’t mean that we have to put safety in second place.”

Bradley takes issue with rail companies like CN not disclosing to municipalities what’s aboard trains until months later, when a detailed breakdown is released.

Two cars that derailed in Strathroy carried environmentally sensitive chemicals, resulting in a small leak of petro alkylate, a substance used in making plastics.

“Nobody gets advanced notice of what’s going to be on the trains,” said Graeme Norval, a University of Toronto chemical engineering professor, who estimates about 90 per cent of rail cargo isn’t hazardous.

Norval said reducing the risk posed by transporting potentially hazardous materials is difficult.

“The material has to move from where it’s manufactured to where people consume it,” he said. “So, how do you get materials there? It’s either going to be by pipeline, by rail car or by road. Road has the highest frequency of accidents.”

A team of Transportation Safety Board investigators at the scene were expected to complete their field work Thursday night, spokesperson Chris Krepski said.

“But we’re going to continue gathering information from other sources and possibly do some subsequent inspections,” Krepski said, adding it’s too early to say when the probe might wrap up.

“We’re still in the information-gathering stage. We still have to assess the information we’ve received to determine what level of investigation we will do.”

Via service returned to normal Thursday night. 

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