Manitoba

Track where fatal train derailment happened inspected twice last week, ownership group says

The deadly train derailment in northern Manitoba on Saturday happened on a track that was inspected twice just last week, said a spokesperson for the conglomerate that owns the rail line.

2 men were trapped in locomotive for hours after derailment on bridge

One person died after a train derailed on a remote section of track near Ponton, Man. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

The deadly train derailment in northern Manitoba on Saturday happened on a track that was inspected twice just last week, said a spokesperson for the conglomerate that owns the rail line.

"This was not part of the washed-out line from a year ago. This track, I can confirm, was inspected on Monday and Thursday [of last week]. This is an active track," said Murad Al-Katib, president of AGT Foods, one of the partners of the Arctic Gateway Group.

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. RCMP said one of the men told them a bridge was gone on a remote section of the line near Ponton, Man., about halfway between Thompson and The Pas.

We run our companies as families. Truly, heavy-hearted doesn't give any justice to the feelings you have- Murad Al-Katib

However, Al-Katib said it was too early to say what caused the derailment.

"There's a detailed investigation going on and there's all kinds of public misinformation that is out there," he said.

"We've got accident-cause experts and people that are on site with … decades of experience. There's not a conclusive cause at this point.

"Speculation about a rail bridge not being there is not a healthy discussion at this point."

Asked who did the inspections last week, Al-Katib said he couldn't comment.

"The details of that are part of the investigation."

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. 

The man who died was the train conductor and the other man was the engineer, Al-Katib said. Both were from The Pas.

Al-Katib flew to The Pas from Saskatchewan on the weekend to meet with family of the man who died and to express condolences. 

"We run our companies as families. Truly, heavy-hearted doesn't give any justice to the feelings you have," he said. "I have so much sorrow for this family."

They talked about the man's dedication to the job and how well-liked he was among his co-workers, Al-Katib said.

"He was truly a friend and truly somebody that everybody sitting in this organization talks about, how much he loved his job."

He also met with other employees of the rail line to make sure "they understood we're here, and we're there with them and we're going to get through this," Al-Katib said.

He hasn't had a chance to meet with the man who survived the derailment.

Murad Al-Katib flew to The Pas to meet with the family of the man who died and other railway workers to offer support and condolences. (Murad Al-Katib)

"We're doing our best to give them the privacy and the time they need to deal with this," he said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with [him] and his recovery."

'Best there is'

Mayor Jim Scott of The Pas heaped high praise on the two men who were trapped in the locomotive, saying they knew their jobs incredibly well.

"These two guys were the best there is in the business. They were very dependable [and] safety was always first," he said. "You know these were people who were dedicated to their jobs."

The man who died came from a family with a history steeped in the railroad.

They have been in the railroad business all their life. They want answers as to what happened. And no mother should have to bury their son- Mayor Jim Scott

"His stepdad had 46 years working with the railway in this area and … his grandfather spent years and years and years working with the railroad, so it was a very generational thing," Scott said.

"They have been in the railroad business all their life. They want answers as to what happened. And no mother should have to bury their son."

It's not just the immediate family struggling to understand the tragedy, either, Scott said.

"We are a small town and so everybody is leaning on everybody. It is the talk of the town right now [and] it is still raw."

What exactly happened to the bridge will be part of the Transport Canada investigation.

The train had three locomotive engine cars and 27 cars carrying liquefied petroleum gas at the time of the derailment, and a HAZMAT crew was sent from Thompson along with rescue equipment.

Transport Canada issued a statement late Sunday night saying two inspectors are at the derailment site and have confirmed none of the cars are leaking.

With files from Marianne Klowak