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Hell on the rails could happen yet again
Published: February 21st 2009
Source: Belleville Intelligencer
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It was only six years ago today that the skies over Melrose and Lonsdale lit up with flames and black smoke after a thunderous explosion occurred when a CP Rail train derailed, collapsing several cars in on themselves.

Nearby residents, fortunately, were several hundred metres away from the explosions, but the force of the blast was sufficient to shake homes and scare the heck out of folks for miles around.

Could it happen again? Possibly.

Could it happen right here in Belleville? Possibly. Rail officials assure us trains reduce speeds in

built-up areas, detectors for burned out or "hot" bearings on wheels are rigidly monitored and train crews are trained to react swiftly to such emergencies.

All of that is no doubt true, but the sheer number of trains carrying all manner of hazardous materials through our neighbourhoods is downright frightening.

Consider the crash five years ago today. The principles were Canadian Pacific Railway train

410-16 and another CPR train, No. 251-19. Due to an overheated axle bearing on train 410-16, the 27th car derailed to the south side of the track. Though derailed, the car st toward a switch point and re-routed into a siding area where train 251-19 was idling.

The derailed car, one of seven filled with propane, struck the front corner of the locomotive on train 251-19.

There were two crew members on the train who escaped, barely, with their lives. While they sustained burns, neither man had life-threatening injuries.

The collision -- and resulting explosions, including one that blasted a tanker car half a kilometre from the wreck -- was later attributed to two main issues: the overheated bearing and the locomotive engineer's "decision not to slow the train down to 5 mph or less when travelling over the facing-point switch." The train's crew, a report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada noted, were notified of the overheated bearing through an automated alarm system. They hadn't heeded the warning in enough time to slow the train to minimize the derailment's impact.

There are several occasions each day when trains loaded with materials identical to those that caused the explosions in Melrose roll through Belleville.

They roll through our backyards, past our schools, hospitals, where we work and fields where kids play.

We've been fortunate none of these trains have left the rails in our built-up areas.

Imagine an exploding train in downtown Belleville, and a loaded tanker car of propane flying from such a scene and landing on a school, the hospital or a seniors' home? It could make the recent crash landing of a Bombardier turbo prop airplane on a house in Buffalo seem minor in comparison.

We have only our faith in the national Transportation Safety Board, the rigid standards in place for railroads in Canada and the strict enforcement of them to allow us to sleep at night in a place like Belleville where two rail lines see freight trains rumble through our midst each day.

But, we have always been a railroad town and there are hundreds of people in this city who know well the hazards of rail transport. Some of them have expressed alarm, in recent years, at what they see as relaxed standards for the length of trains, the cargo carried on them and the diminished numbers of crew members who are the watchdogs to ensure a Melrose crash doesn't happen again any time soon.

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