Investigators trying to figure out the cause of a major derailment near Clair, Sask., have ruled out mistakes by the train's operators, Transportation Safety Board officials say.

"With information from the event recorder and interviews with the crew, there were no issues with they way the train was controlled prior to the incident," Rox-Anne V'Aoust, manager of media relations for the TSB, told CBC News Wednesday.

V'Aoust quickly added that there are many other elements, including human actions, that could have played a role in Tuesday's derailment.

Twenty-six out of 100 freight cars derailed about one kilometre from Clair, home to about 50 people, around 10:30 a.m. CST Tuesday.

The TSB noted that six cars were carrying hazardous materials. Two of them, which were carrying petroleum products, were compromised in the derailment and burst into flames.

No one was hurt, but with flames rising out of the twisted metal. and smoke pouring from the scene, people from the area, in Clair and in nearby farm homes, were forced to leave.

The evacuation order was lifted Wednesday morning, and people started returning to their houses.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the TSB said its investigation was still in its early stages of gathering evidence and it was too soon to draw any conclusions about the cause. The agency noted that investigators have taken a section of rail from the site and sent it to a lab in Ottawa for testing.

The train originated in Winnipeg and was headed for Saskatoon when the derailment took place. The TSB said the train was moving at about 65 kilometres an hour at the time of the incident.

Additional information from the TSB:

  • 2 tank cars were loaded with hydrochloric acid but did not breach or release any product.
  • 2 tank cars were loaded with sodium hydroxide but did not breach or release any product.
  • 2 tank cars loaded with petroleum distillates released product during the derailment which resulted in a fire.

Based on photographs taken at the scene, the derailment happened about a kilometre from Clair on a straight, flat, virtually treeless area. There's a level crossing with only warning signs, but there was no indication Tuesday that any other vehicle was involved.

In addition to the people from Clair, some families from Paswegin also had to leave, but were allowed to return Wednesday morning.

The TSB also said that they will be examining all the rail cars at the scene — 40 of them were loaded and 60 were empty — with particular emphasis on the tanker cars.

Province updates public on emergency response 

Meanwhile, provincial officials told reporters that, so far, there's no reason for people to fear environmental or health consequences from the accident.

The government will test water if people have concerns about their wells or dugouts, and CN has agreed to pay for that testing.

Duane McKay, the province's commissioner of emergency management and fire safety, said salvage operations on the site have begun.

The government has done air-quality sampling and found no contaminant that would affect animals or people, he said.

Could have been worse, some locals say

People in the area were reacting to the events of the past day with a mixture of relief and uneasiness.

Jami Lawrence, who lives in Clair with her boyfriend and his family, found out about the derailment yesterday while she was at work.

She worried about what might have happened if the train had derailed in front of their house. 

Tim Tschetter, who farms near the wreckage, said he saw the initial explosion when he and his cousin were driving nearby.

"We seen a flash of light. It didn't really make sense until we seen the smoke. Then we realized it was a fire or an explosion," he explained.

Tschetter said CN crews arrived moments later and blocked off the road. 

Hazardous materials on board

According to the provincial government, of the six cars carrying hazardous materials, two had sodium hydroxide and two had hydrochloric acid. The other two had petroleum distillates, which included a Varsol-type substance.

A car with distillates was among those that burned.

The thick, black smoke poured out of the wreckage for several hours after the derailment and some officials were concerned it might be toxic.

The province deployed its rapid response team with specialized equipment to handle hazardous materials. 

Some of the people evacuated from Clair were sent to Wadena, a town of 1,300 that's about 20 kilometres to the east, where an operations and reception centre was set up by the province. Students at the Wadena school were kept indoors during the school day.

Traffic was also detoured around routes downwind of the derailment. The province said the detours will continue until the areas are safe. An five-kilometre radius around the crash site had been cordoned off.

Roadblocks were still up Wednesday afternoon but it's believed they could come down soon.

CN said it spent the night clearing wreckage from the tracks. There's no word yet on how much hazardous material spilled out of the wrecked cars, but CN said any spill was limited to their own property.


Ron Fogg posted on Facebook this video taken shortly after the train derailed.



On Mobile? Here's a link to Ron Fogg's video.