A train engineer is missing after a derailment sent a locomotive plunging into a river about 20 kilometres north of Sept-Îles, Que.

Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway map

The freight trained derailed 20 kilometres north of Sept-Îles, Que. (Google Maps)

Preliminary reports suggest a landslide forced the locomotive off the tracks, which run along the Moisie River.

The freight train was towing three locomotives and 240 railcars, many of them empty.

The Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) confirmed that the train locomotive, which was transporting empty railcars, was found submerged in the river.

"The [engineer] is unaccounted for and his family has been notified. Our first priority is locating our employee," said a statement released by the company.

The engineer was the only person on board the train. The freight train was being operated by the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway (QNS&L).

Diesel spilled into Moisie River

The Quebec Environment Ministry’s emergency team said the train spilled diesel into the Moisie River for hours after it ran off the tracks.

Moisie River

Emergency crews work to contain the diesel that spilled into the Moisie River. (Radio-Canada)

The locomotive’s reservoir could contain up to 18,000 litres of fuel, although it is not clear how much diesel was in the tank at the time of the derailment.

The ministry said officials will take all steps necessary to protect the population and the environment, and is employing containment methods to try to capture as much diesel as possible.

Quebec provincial police said the train derailed shortly before 7:30 a.m.

The remote location made it difficult for emergency crews to reach the site immediately.

Sgt. Claude Doiron said officials arrived on the scene around noon.

A team of investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) also rushed to the scene.

Residents stranded

The train tracks also serve as an important link for commuter rail passengers coming from Schefferville, Que. With the train cars blocking passage and the railbed washed out, the line is currently out of commission.

Schefferville is an isolated mining town, about a 12-hour train ride from Sept-Îles.

Resident Marion Inish said that without rail access, the only way in or out is by air.

Inish said a one-way ticket on the 90-minute flight can cost up to $400.

“Even to go to Sept-Îles by stand-by, it’s very expensive,” she said.  

She said the train line is used to transport produce into Schefferville. Luckily, the train bringing in food arrived Wednesday night, but it could be a week before the line is up and running again.

“I’m worried about groceries. The price is going to increase, the vegetables are not fresh,” she said.

Town administrator Paul Joncas said a shipment of produce was due in Schefferville by Thursday evening, but he expects the price of food in the town to increase by about 30 per cent if no alternative transportation is found.

“We’re going to see with Air Inuit, and the governments of Quebec or Newfoundland, about what we can do about that,” Joncas said.