06/03/2013 09:28 EDT | Updated 08/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Train derailment near Sudbury sparks water contamination fears

Residents are concerned for their safety and homes following a train derailment Sunday south of Sudbury, Ont., that resulted in several cars plunging into the Wanapitei River.

The Canadian Pacific freight train cars became lodged in rapids near Wanup, located on Sudbury's outskirts, and their extraction could be tricky.

The accident is under investigation.

“From what I saw there, I'd say they're going to have to bring some sort of barge system in … to wheel those things out,” said Sudbury police Chief Frank Elsner, who was a police diver for a number of years.

“[The cars] are in the middle of that river, so it would be very, very difficult to get a crane that far over into the river."

It’s not good news for nearby residents, including Ray Dubois, whose backyard overlooks the Wanapitei River and the collapsed bridge with the overturned train cars.

As he watched boxcars bob down the river and submerge across from his house, “we could literally see fuel floating by."

Dubois said his home is on low land, so flooding is a concern, as is his property’s value.

"My home is up for sale and I just found out that I can't use my water,” he said.

“How's that going to impact me now? Who's going to want to come and see this if the river is contaminated in front of my place?"

Sudbury police say residents should avoid drinking or swimming in the water, as there is the potential of small-scale chemical contamination.

Wheel bearing failed

Greater Sudbury’s community emergency management co-ordinator said the city is working with Canadian Pacific to identify exactly what was in each boxcar.

"The train was carrying really a mixed load,” Lynn Fortin said.

Canadian Pacific spokesman Ed Greenberg said a preliminary inspection of the containers indicates there are no materials or products that pose any danger.

He said roughly 24 containers were involved and there were no injuries in the accident. As of Monday afternoon, only four cars remained in the water.

"Our early investigation indicates this incident is the result of an unexpected and catastrophic wheel-bearing failure that could not have been detected in advance," Greenberg said. The bridge subsequently collasped.

CP has a network of electronic inspection systems that didn't detect any problem with the rail car wheels or bearings prior to the derailment, he added.

He noted CP trains are inspected every day before they leave the yard, in addition to the track-side detectors.

"One of the main types of detectors on our system examines the temperature of every rail car's wheel," he said.

"This train passed by nine of these detectors on its routes to Sudbury. Each of these detectors showed all wheels and bearings were a normal and acceptable temperature."

Greenberg said he's never heard of any other derailments because of a similar wheel bearing failure.

The Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a team of investigators to the scene to begin its probe.

Re-routing trains

Meanwhile, CP says no freight service will be disrupted because of the derailment, even though 14 trains use that portion of track every day.

"CP has re-routing options available to continue with the transportation of customer shipments and those discussions are taking place with our customers at this time," Greenberg said.

"But we have the ability to continue to move our customers' product." CN Rail said its service was temporarily disrupted by the derailment Sunday, but that problem has since been resolved.