Train derailment: Strathroy mayor hasn’t contacted investigators as Free Press confirms new details

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Investigators probing the cause of last week’s train derailment here believe they’ve mapped out the stunning first seconds of the crash.

Thirteen cars from a Sarnia-bound CN freight train derailed at 4:15 a.m. July 19 in the heart of Strathroy, cancelling passenger rail service to the region for days and raising questions about train safety here and in other Southwestern Ontario communities.

Thursday, investigators from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) told The Free Press they’ve zeroed in on a train car hauling a full load of cement as the likely first one to leave the tracks.

“We’re looking at a specific car,” TSB investigator Robert Bruder said.

“There’s evidence that may have indicated that car was the first off.”

That car, which ended up back on the tracks, was sent to be broken down and analyzed by lab engineers. A computer stimulation of the derailment will be created once all the relevant data has been obtained, Bruder said.

The Metcalfe Street rail crossing where the 120-car freight train from Toronto derailed at 4:15 a.m. needs to be rebuilt, officials say.

Although all the damaged rail cars were cleared from the scene, workers this week continued removing sections of track that needed replacement.

Strathroy Mayor Joanne Vanderheyden said CN will foot the bill to rebuild the Metclafe crossing, one of a half-dozen that bisect the town.

“I’m sure CN will pay for that, but they have to do it in conjunction with us because it’s our road,” Vanderheyden said, estimating the project will begin later this summer.

A CN spokesperson confirmed the company will pay for the crossing rebuild.

The crash happened late at night. But had it been during the day – trains cross through the heart of Strathroy frequently – it could have been a far more dangerous incident.

Although nobody was injured in the derailment, the region’s fifth since 2011, questions have been raised about the rail companies like CN not disclosing to municipalities what’s aboard trains until months later, when a detailed breakdown is released.

One of the cars that derailed in Strathroy was carrying residual amounts liquid propane, which is highly flammable. Another car carrying petro alkylate, a substance used to manufacture plastics, leaked onto the tracks.

Vanderheyden said she’s awaiting the results from the TSB investigation — there’s no timeline for its completion — but hasn’t yet tried to contact the agency herself.

“Once they know what the cause is, then they can fix whatever it is so it doesn’t happen again,” Vanderheyden said.

“Nobody wants this to happen, so we all need to work together that the trains going through towns and the tracks and the roads are as safe as possible.”

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