Looking at the wreckage left behind, Goderich’s mayor says it is still hard to believe that no one was killed, or even injured, after an out-of-control freight train slammed into a building and two vehicles along the town’s harbourfront.
“Everyone walked away. We’re very lucky, very fortunate. Some equipment got wrecked. A big transport truck was destroyed, but everyone walked away, so we’re thankful for that,” says Mayor John Grace.
Around 1:30 Monday afternoon, a freight train loaded with grain started heading up the hill away from the Goderich grain elevators, operated by Parrish and Heimbecker Ltd.
But, moments after leaving, the train and it’s 34 cars came hurtling back down towards the elevators.
It first slammed into a tractor trailer holding grain, whose driver had just left the cab to visit the washroom.
Then, it flew past the end of the tracks in front of the elevators, pinning a pickup truck against the harbour fence, before coming to rest in an old fishing shed.
The two people inside the pickup truck walked away, shaken, but without a scratch. They, along with the tractor trailer driver, declined requests for an interview.
“Very fortunate that there were no injuries, no flammable materials on board, no leaks. The next phase of this investigation is to figure out what caused this train derailment,” says Huron OPP Const. Jamie Stanley.
An investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) arrived on scene Tuesday morning. They will first look at the train’s equipment, the operation of the rolling stock, and the condition of the track. They will also look at the locomotive’s “black box” or “event recorder” to find out what led to this “uncontrolled movement.”
“(The locomotive event recorder) tells you the speed, when it was stopped, brake pipe pressure. It tells you when the brakes were applied. It tells you when the brakes came off,” says Rob Johnston, the director of Rail and Pipeline Investigations for the TSB.
While there is no timeline for the cleanup of the numerous derailed train cars currently sitting along Goderich’s northern harbourfront wall, there is a sense it will be weeks, and not days, until the aftermath of this runaway train is all cleaned up.
“This does not happen very often at all. I think the last time was way back in the mid 70s, that we had something like this, but this is not an everyday occurrence. That was 50-60 years ago, so it happens, we’ll learn from it, the companies involved with learn from it, and we’ll move on,” says Grace.
“We’re going to do our best to figure out what transpired here, so hopefully, something like this doesn’t happen again,” says Johnston.