EXPLORING BEAVER HABITAT WITH GOOGLE EARTH:
COLLAPSE OF BEAVERDAMS BLAMED FOR TRAIN DERAILMENT AND FUEL SPILL IN THE OTTAWA RIVER
In the early morning of June 3, 2009, (3 a.m.) a freight train derailed about 16 kilometers east of Mattawa, close to the (in the 1930s -40s) vanished lumber village of Klock. The derailment included two locomotives and six empty rail cars used to haul lumber. About 15,000 liters of fuel was spilled in the Ottawa river. One car was in the river. (Canadian Press CBC News)
The Ottawa Valley Railway train went of the tracks around 3.10 a.m. when it ran into 180 meters of washed out tracks on an embankment just besides the Ottawa River. The OVR is a short-line railroad with 550 km of track between Coniston and Smiths Falls with CP interchanges at Sudbury and Smith Falls.
The destructions of three successive beaver dams was blamed for the wash out of the rail embankment. The collapse of the dams apparently released a wall of floodwater up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) high over part of the tracks.
“The washout is believed to have resulted from flooding that began when three up-river beaver dams were destroyed,” Michelle King, a railway spokeswoman who works for Burdette Ketchum, said in an e-mailed statement. “They’ve been having a lot of rain and snow recently,” she said. One burst beaver dam led to a second washing out, and then a third, she said (Todd Zeranski)
Both crew members of the train had minor injuries in the derailment, which remains under investigation. The diesel spilled from the train’s engines, which were flipped onto their sides, Kate Jordan, a spokeswoman at the Ontario Ministry of Environment in Toronto, said.
JENNIFER HAMILTON-McCHARLES, THE NUGGET: By the time Jim Fournier saw the missing train track it was too late. There was nothing he could do but hold on and brace for impact.
The engineer with the Ottawa Valley Railway was on board a 29-car train when it derailed near Mattawa Wednesday morning spilling 20,000 liters of diesel fuel into the Ottawa River. It's like we hit a wall. We stopped dead just like that," Fournier said Wednesday evening. It was more wild than any ride at Canada's Wonderland." Fournier was heading west to North Bay from Petawawa when he saw that a section of track was missing.
I saw it at the last minute, this dead spot, a great big hole where there was no track," Fournier said.
"There was no time to react, we just held on. It happened so quickly. We were just holding on and hoping to not fly out of the window."
Fournier, who was visibly shaken recalling the derailment Wednesday evening, said he draws a blank when he tries to remember the time between impact and when the crew started climbing out of the locomotive.
In no time the train was on its side and we were in this six-foot hole of mud and water," he said.
We knew the engine was on its side, but we were in shock. We had no choice but to climb 12 feet to get out of the conductor's window.
Site Inspection by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada Investigation Team determined that:
"The track was damaged for approximately 460 feet. There were five locations where the track sub grade had washed away, ranging in length from about 6 feet to about 20 feet long The two locomotives had dropped into two of these washed-out sections of track and sustained extensive damage. The seven derailed cars were jackknifed across the track with four cars positioned on the river bank and partially over hanging the Ottawa River";
"A nearby creek drained through a culvert in the track sub grade . The culvert was clear of debris and the water flow was unimpeded . A pond had formed bordering on the upstream side of the track sub grade . Water marks were discovered on the ballast, ties and rails approximately 10 feet above the water level that was observed after the accident . It was determined that the high water was due to the catastrophic failure of three beaver dams, up to 1.6 km upstream of the track ; these dams were not visible from the OVR right -of -way. A large section of a beaver dam, measuring approximately 15 feet long, had been displaced from its location on a smooth bald rock (see Photo 4)."
"There were no signs that the beaver dam had failed by anything other than natural forces. Water markings showed that the water level in the beaver dam ponds had dropped by several feet, indicating that a large volume of water had been released recently (see Photo 5) . The water course from the furthest beaver pond to the derailment site dropped in elevation by about 100 feet."
Consequences of the Derailment?: In 2009 Canadian Pacific ceased using the OVR for its eastbound rail cargo, opting instead to rely exclusively on its main line through Toronto. (Edith Cody-Rice in a Milstone News Article August 5, 2011: "Death knell for Ottawa Valley rail line") As a result, she reported that car loads dropped dramatically from over 4000 in December 2008 to under 1000 in 2009. Interesting in this context is also the fact that the same track appears to have washed out again 5 years later in 2014. See Figure 6 below.
Figure 1. Google Earth low resolution image (2003) showing area of railway track wash out causing the derailment. A number of beaver dam controlled lakes and wetlands can be seen on the higher ground to the left.
Figure 2. A collage of images of the derailment area provided by various news paper articles, in particular the local news paper the North Bay Nugget and some from the CBC.
Figure 3: Topographic Map of the Derailment Area. The red oval indicates the approximate wash out area. The dotted red line the water flow. According to the Transport Safety Board of Canada investigation report three beaver dams, up to 1.6km upstream of the track, failed. The three beaver dams were located in the stream identified with a thin blue line on this topographic map.
Figure 4: Apple Maps Image. The date is not specified, but at this time the railway track is not broken up. The orange arrows how 4 dams which may have failed. The report mentioned earlier, mentions three failed dams within 1.6 km of the washed out track. The fourth dam is just within the 1.6 km distance. The first dam, closest to the track, was a small old 'inactive' dam with a beaver meadow upstream.
Figure 5: 2015 Google Earth image (actual source Digital Globe) showing the beaver dam locations (orange) and the approximate elevation profile along the stream. The beaver dam locations are also marked with black arrows on the elevation profile. The actual date of this image is 26 July 2015, six years after the derailment. Surprisingly the rail bed appears to be breached again. See figure 6 below. It should be noted that the elevation profile is a good approximation of the overall landscape, but imprecise in visualizing details.
Figure 6: 2013 and 2015 Google Earth (Digital Globe) images of the derailment site. The 2013 image shows the reconstructed rail bed. Also significant mud deposits can be seen in the pond below the track. The 2015 image shows that significant beaver dam failures have happened again. This time fortunately no derailment. The railway is no longer in operation.
Figure 7: Comparison of the situation of beaver dam 3 in 2013 and 2015. The yellow arrow indicates the location of the breach in the beaver dam, which may have happened in 2014 or the early part of 2015. In 2013 the pond upstream of the dam is filled with a large amount of water (A). In 2015 the 'beaver pond' is virtually dried up B with just shallow water before the dam. Drainage is to the North.
Figure 8: Comparison of the situation of beaver dam 3 in 2013 and 2015. The blue line shows the direction of water flow. The orange arrows the location of the beaver dams. Source of both images is Google Earth- Digital Globe.
Figure 9: The displaced part of the failed beaver dam is shown on this photo from the Investigation Report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
Figure 10: The high watermark near the failed beaver dam is marked on this photo from the investigation report.
Figure 10: 1989 Aerial Photograph of the derailment area. (National Air photo Library Collection, NAPL Ottawa. The blue arrow points to the wash out area. The dotted red oval shows the location of the in the 1930-40s abandoned lumber village of Klock.
Figure 11. Year 2000 NASA Landsat imagery (World Wind source) below. Although a low resolution image, the significant amount of surface water clearly visible in the series of connected beaver ponds: black blue in the right bottom corner of the image. These ponds feed the creek which flows to the railway track.