Washout, possibly due to beaver, confirmed at site of deadly train derailment in northern Manitoba

The Transportation Safety Board has confirmed there was a washout on the northern Manitoba railway where a fatal train derailment occurred.

Transportation Safety Board still probing causes

An aerial view of the train derailment near Ponton, Man. (Transportation Safety Board)

The Transportation Safety Board has confirmed there was a washout on the northern Manitoba railway where a fatal train derailment occurred on Saturday. 

Jerry Berriault, a regional senior investigator, said the agency is continuing to investigate, but could not definitively state that the crash, which claimed one life and seriously injured another worker, was caused by the washout. 

Berriault said two culverts became blocked along the remote railway sometime after the last inspection on Thursday, obstructing water flow and forcing the grade underneath the railway to wash away.

The train was travelling north at around 25 miles per hour when it encountered the washout, near Ponton, Man., around 5:45 p.m.

"It came to a sudden and immediate stop with some fairly catastrophic results," he said.

Berriault described the washed-out section as a raised bank, 12 feet above the creek, instead of a bridge.

He said there's been heavy rains and high water in the area, halfway between The Pas and Thompson, since May.

"At some point they became blocked or were overwhelmed with volume of water, that caused the washout."

He said there was also a release of water upstream, possibly due to beaver activity or natural flows.

Inspected two days before

Murad Al-Katib, a spokesperson for the conglomerate that owns the rail line, previously told CBC News the track was inspected twice within the last week, including a visit two days before the derailment.

The washout eliminated the subgrade, creating a gap of between 30-50 feet, Berriault said. 

"The lead locomotive hit the embankment on the north side after the washout."

The crash site is 17 kilometres south of where Highway 6 crosses the railway.

RCMP say a 38-year-old, who died, and a 59-year-old were trapped in the locomotive of a freight train for several hours after it derailed.

The man who died was the train conductor and the other employee was an engineer, said Al-Katib, president of AGT Foods. They were both from The Pas.

Diesel leak

There was no indication the freight train's cargo of gasoline, liquid propane gas and butane leaked, but a spill of diesel fuel from the locomotive emptied into a nearby waterway, the provincial government confirmed Wednesday. Specialized equipment will assist with clean-up efforts.

Berriault said the crash caused the derailment of three locomotives and four railcars, two of which were holding propane.

It was announced in late August that Al-Katib's group had purchased, from Denver-based Omnitrax, the flood-damaged Hudson Bay Railway line between Winnipeg and Churchill.

The consortium includes Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings and Manitoba's Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership, as well as Saskatchewan-based AGT. 

Via Rail has temporary suspended passenger service between Winnipeg and Gillam until the railway is deemed safe. No timeline for restoration has been announced. 


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at


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