Railroad Accident Report - Derailment of Canadian National Freight Train M33371 and Subsequent Release of Hazardous Materials

Tamaroa, Illinois
February 9, 2003

NTSB Number: RAR-05-01
NTIS Number: PB2005-916301
Adopted January 25, 2005
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Executive Summary

About 9:04 a.m. central standard time on February 9, 2003, northbound Canadian National freight train M33371, traveling about 40 mph, derailed 22 of its 108 cars in Tamaroa, Illinois. Four of the derailed cars released methanol, and the methanol from two of these four cars fueled a fire. Other derailed cars contained phosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, and vinyl chloride. Two cars containing hydrochloric acid, one car containing formaldehyde, and one car containing vinyl chloride released product but were not involved in the fire. About 850 residents were evacuated from the area within a 3-mile radius of the derailment, which included the entire village of Tamaroa. No one was injured during the derailment, although one contract employee was injured during cleanup activities. Damages to track, signals, and equipment, and clearing costs associated with the accident totaled about $1.9 million.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the February 9, 2003, derailment of Canadian National train M33371 in Tamaroa, Illinois, was Canadian National's placement of bond wire welds on the head of the rail just outside the joint bars, where untempered martensite associated with the welds led to fatigue and subsequent cracking that, because of increased stresses associated with known soft ballast conditions, rapidly progressed to rail failure.

The safety issues addressed in the report are as follows:

  • The effect of bond wire welding on rail integrity, and
  • Inconsistent instructions regarding the exothermic welding of bond wires.

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration; ERICO Products, Inc.; and the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association.

Recommendations

As a result of its investigation of the February 9, 2003, Canadian National freight train derailment at Tamaroa, Illinois, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:

To the Federal Railroad Administration:

Require in 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 213, "Track Safety Standards," that rail cracks originating from bond wire attachments be identified as rail defects and that information be collected on the methods and locations of those attachments. (R-05-01)

Require in 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 225, "Guide for Preparing Accident/Incident Reports," that derailments caused by rail cracks originating from bond wire attachments be reported with a specific cause code and that information on the methods and locations of those attachments be provided in the accident narrative. (R-05-02)

To ERICO Products, Inc.:

Revise the instructions for your Cadweld welding systems to address the proper placement of exothermic bond wire welds, especially in the vicinity of joint bars, and to make users aware that these welds create untempered martensite that could, under certain conditions, lead to fatigue cracking and rail failure. (R-05-03)

To the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association:

Modify your Railroad Engineering Manual and/or your Communications and Signals Manual so both address the proper placement of exothermic bond wire welds and high-temperature pin-brazings and to include information that these welds and brazings create untempered martensite that could, under certain conditions, lead to fatigue cracking and rail failure. (R-05-04)