Train derailment report raises ire at Cobourg council

By Robert Washburn

Full presentation

Cobourg Fire Chief Al Mann defended some damning questions by Cobourg councillors Monday night as he described the full extent of the CN train derailment last spring.

Using a blend of praise and criticism, Mann provided details around the March 27 incident to politicians providing shocking details, including the amount of toxic chemicals on the train, the amount of materials spilled and the continuing efforts to clean up the damage.

There are 30 test wells that circle the site, just north of the railway tracks in Hamilton Township, south of former HIghway 2, just east of the Port Hope border. There were 120,000 litres of aviation fuel spilled and six million litres of contaminated water, he said. Nearly 5,ooo tonnes of contaminaed soil was removed from the site, he added.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board is expected to release a full, detailed report about the accident very soon, Mann said.

However, Councillor Donna Todd expressed her dismay when she asked about how many cars were on the train at the time of the accident, adding she hear it was around 140. She was very angry about the length of the trains, saying the longer trains are more dangerous.

“That’s the problem,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Stan Frost was visibly upset as he spoke, saying this was the third derailment in three years. In fact, there 23 cars jumped the tracks near Burnham Street in Cobourg in 2007 and a collision in Port Hope on the Canadian Pacific line in 2002. Still, he lectured councillors saying they cannot ignore the importance of Mann’s report.

“There was a great deal of luck during this,” he said. “Obviously, it could have been a catastrophe…It is important we find the cause and look at the lessons learned. We cannot stand by.”

Mann said there were lessons learned from the incident, including the importance of a unified command structure, especially when so many various departments and agencies were involved. He pointed out the need for improved communications between the command group, people on the site and the emergency measures organizations. Media relations was also not handled well, he said.

However, Mann did have praise for all the firefighters involved, saying the mutual aid system worked very well. Without the assistance, it would not have worked, he said.

What was more shocking was the number of toxic chemicals being transported. There were eight aviation fuel cars, three cars with butane, six with residual butane, one with ethanol, another with residual potassium hydroxide and three with sulfuric acid.

There was a sense that the response teams were lucky, he said. The spill occurred on the north side of the tracks, preventing the spill from contaminating a marsh area and draining into Lake Ontario.

All costs are being submitted to CN Rail, he added.

A complete presentation will be made to Northumberland County council and all local politicians will be invited.