Derailment Cause Remains a Mystery

Photo from the Minot Daily News shows the scene of the derailment that killed one local resident and injured two rail crew members.
MINOT, N.D. -- Canadian Pacific Railway says it is too early to know the cause of the Friday train derailment that resulted in at least one death and dozens of injuries, the Minot Daily News reports. However, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees representatives say years of CP Rail cut backs in track maintenance employees has a direct impact on track conditions and workers are being pushed beyond their limits.

BMWE spokesman Mark Wimmer said that since 1995, CP Rail has cut 113 track maintenance workers from a 1995 level of 518. There are approximately 200 track workers that maintain the line from Portal to Minneapolis. "The work has exceeded the wherewithal of the folks who work out there," said Wimmer.

CP Rail representative John Bergene says the railroad keeps it tracks up to standards with several layers of inspections.

Bergene said as they use the tracks, train crews are also making visual inspections. In addition, track inspectors look at the rails several times a week. He said there is also electronic inspection equipment that can detect cracks in rails.

CP Rail also has train car inspection equipment spaced about 25 miles apart along tracks that can detect cracked wheels and overheated wheel bearings.

The Canadian BMWE is in the process of conducting a study that it says will detail some of the problems with CP Rail’s maintenance procedures.

Gary Housche, of the BMWE in Ottawa, said the report is 50 percent complete but said it will likely recommend that CP Rail in Canada take away track inspections from supervisors who also are responsible for meeting train schedules.

"The supervisors have a conflict of interest," said Housche.

Housche also says CP Rail needs to stop shedding workers at a time when the volume of rail traffic is rising.

"I would find that the results shouldn’t be significantly different as far as the way maintenance is preformed and the number of people required to perform the maintenance."

Tyra Henschel, director of communications for CP Rail, said it is too early in the situation to make allegations. "It’s unfortunate that when we are all trying to rectify the situation that they too are not focused on a similar effort," said Henschel of the BMWE charges.