RCMP say first responders got to fatal train derailment as quickly as they could

The RCMP say emergency responders reacted as quickly as they could to a fatal train derailment in northern Manitoba last month, in response to criticism from the rail workers' union.

Union calls for inquiry, saying members were left for hours without medical attention

An aerial view of the train derailment near Ponton, Man., that left one man dead and another with serious injuries. (Submitted by Transportation Safety Board )

The RCMP say emergency responders reacted as quickly as they could to a fatal train derailment in northern Manitoba last month, in response to criticism from the rail workers' union. 

Earlier this week, in a letter written by the Teamsters to the chief medical examiner of Manitoba, union vice-president Roland Hackl said two members were trapped in the wreckage for hours and paramedics weren't allowed to get to them due to concerns about possible diesel fuel leaks.

The letter says an autopsy report obtained by the Teamsters includes information that the 38-year-old conductor bled to death after suffering "serious but survivable injuries" in the crash on Sept. 15.

The 59-year-old man who survived has suffered "life-altering injuries."

"It is our view that all processes, if in fact any exist, failed," Hackl wrote.

However, RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel said all first responders tried to get to the injured workers as quickly as possible, "and did everything they could to help the conductors in extremely challenging and dangerous conditions and in a remote area."

In an email, Seel said Wabowden RCMP were advised of the derailment just before 6 p.m., after a helicopter pilot flying in the area came across it.

Officers were flown to the site, arriving at about 7 p.m. They spent five hours with the two trapped crew members, waiting for more emergency responders to arrive, Seel said.

Thompson Fire and Emergency Services arrived in a rail truck with additional equipment just before midnight, Seel said.

"Hazmat, paramedic and rescue expertise, along with equipment, was required from Thompson Fire and Emergency Services, and they were invaluable help to the RCMP," Seel wrote in the email.

The crew from Thompson got to work as soon as they arrived, she said.

"They immediately ensured the area was safe, entered the locomotive to begin lifesaving operations and worked on rescuing the trapped crew members aboard," Seel said.

"It is important to note that the rail cars were carrying liquefied petroleum gas, which was a significant safety hazard for all first responders."

The 38-year-old conductor succumbed to his injuries on site shortly before 1 a.m., Seel said. The 59-year-old male was later freed from the wreckage and taken to hospital.

CBC contacted the office of the chief medical examiner of Manitoba on Monday about the call for an inquest, but did not receive a response.


Sept. 15, 3:30 p.m. A Hudson Bay Railway train, operated by two Teamsters Canada Rail Conference members, a 38-year-old conductor and a 59-year-old engineer, encounters a track failure, and the train's locomotives and several rail cars veer off the track, union officials say. Neither RCMP nor the Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, have confirmed precisely when it happened.

Sept. 15, 5:45 p.m. A helicopter pilot flying above the area spots the derailment, about 12 kilometres west of Highway 6, near Ponton, Man. The pilot saw the crash "entirely by chance" while picking up a prospector about two hours after the derailment happened, union officials say.

Sept. 15, 6 p.m. Wabowden RCMP get the call. The officers gather equipment and are flown to the site by the pilot that first spotted the derailment.

Sept. 15, 6:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. RCMP officers arrive at the scene.

Sept. 15, just before midnight Thompson Fire and Emergency Services arrive via rail truck. After surveying the area to make sure it's safe to enter, emergency services personnel go into the locomotive to give the trapped crew members medical attention and work on rescuing them, RCMP say.

Sept. 16, 1 a.m. The 38-year-old succumbs to his injuries at the crash site, both the RCMP and union say.

Sept. 16, 2:20 a.m. The surviving worker is freed from the locomotive, RCMP previously said. He is airlifted to hospital with serious injuries after being trapped for at least eight hours.