London·Video

Calls for answers after train on fire rolls through downtown London, Ont.

Fire crews are thanking witnesses who called 911 after seeing a Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railway train barrelling toward downtown London, Ont., late Sunday night, flames shooting high into the night sky.

Railway's oversight body, TSB is gathering information, no injuries as damage estimated at $25K

The train eventually halted at Pall Mall Street and Waterloo Street in central London, Ont. where it took 28 firefighters and 10 apparatus to knock down the blaze.
The train eventually halted at Pall Mall Street and Waterloo Street in central London, Ont., where it took 28 firefighters to knock down the blaze. (Sean Davidson/CBC)

Fire crews thanked witnesses who called 911 after seeing a Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railway (CPKCR) train barrelling toward downtown London, Ont., late Sunday night, flames shooting high into the night sky.

No one was hurt after wooden railway ties inside five train cars caught fire and the train eventually came to a stop in the area of  Richmond Street and Pall Mall Street, a residential section, at around 10:49 p.m. ET.

There were no dangerous goods on board the freight train when it caught fire, London Fire says.
There were no dangerous goods on board the freight train when it caught fire, London Fire says. (Sean Davidson/CBC)

Train cars carrying dangerous goods and hazardous materials were split and moved away from the cars on fire, said London Fire platoon chief Colin Shewell. 

The railway ties had been picked up from outside London, in the Strathroy area, said Shewell. Somewhere between Strathroy and London, they ignited, although it's not yet known how. 

WATCH | Fire crews respond to train fire in London, Ont.:

Fire crews respond to flaming railway cars in London, Ont.

26 days ago
Duration 0:51
Multiple fire crews responded late Sunday night in London, Ont., as freight cars burned on railway tracks in the area of Richmond Street and Pall Mall Street.

People in London woke up to multiple videos of the train on fire and heading east through the city. It took fire crews about an hour and a half to put the fire out and another few hours to ensure nothing else was smouldering, Shewell said. 

There are many questions about the incident, including: 

  • When did the train crew notice the fire on board and why didn't they call 911? 
  • Why did the train stop where it did, in the middle of a residential neighbourhood just west of a shunting yard? 
  • How did the railway ties, coated in flammable wood preservative creosote, catch fire? 
  • Did the fire spread from one car to the others, or did all five catch fire at once? 

The train was travelling on the tracks owned by CPKCR and eventually brought to a halt in front of an office building and an apartment complex. Crews were able to disconnect the locomotives so firefighters could put out the fire.  

The company sent a two-sentence statement to CBC News in response to a request for an interview.

"The incident remains under investigation. We thank the London first responders for their effective response to the fire last night," CPKCR spokesperson Terry Cunha wrote in an email. 

It's unlikely that sparks from the train wheels caused the blaze, said rail consultant Malcolm Cairns, who used to work for Canadian Pacific Railway. 

"The Transportation Safety Board [TSB] will have their review of this incident and they will go into great depth, taking witness statements and looking at all the evidence, and eventually you'll know what caused it and whether the rules were obeyed," Cairns said. 

There are rules about where cars with hazardous materials can be located and how far they have to be from other cars, he added. "The chances of a fire spreading five or 10 car lengths is not likely. That would be a devastating catastrophe." 

The train was eventually moved to its rail yard, located between Adelaide and Quebec streets, where firefighters continued to work to put out smouldering material, Shewell said. 

Cars filled to the brim with railway ties sit at the CPKCR rail yard near Quebec Street in London, Ont.
Cars filled to the brim with railway ties sit at the CPKCR rail yard near Quebec Street in London, Ont. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

"We will treat everything as arson until proven otherwise," said Shewell. "These were scrap railway ties, so there's really no dollar value on them. They were actually destined to be destroyed." 

The investigation is in the hands of Canadian Pacific's own police oversight body, he said, as well as the TSB.

Damage is estimated at $25,000 to rail cars and $10,000 to the office building used by Drewlo Holdings.  

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Kansas City Southern Railway Co. merged last year after a U.S. regulator approved the $31-billion US deal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.

With files from Angela McInnes