|Via train station on Bridge St. in Niagara Falls, near the Canada/U.S. border. (QMI Agency/MIKE DIBATTISTA)
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. - A runaway rail car that crossed the Whirlpool Bridge from the U.S. into Canada wasn't investigated by law enforcement agencies for 11 hours.
The Aug. 12 security breach and subsequent response is now being investigated by law enforcement on both sides of the border.
The incident happened about 1:30 a.m. when an auto rack -- a two-level vehicle carrier train car -- somehow broke free from the CSX rail yard in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and started rolling down the tracks toward the Whirlpool Bridge.
An official with CSX said it is being investigated as a case of vandalism as it's believed someone pulled a pin connecting the 145-foot-long, 20-foot-tall car to a string of other train cars and released the brakes.
The car rolled 2.5 kilometres down the tracks from the railyard east of Hyde Park Blvd. to the Whirlpool Bridge, crossed the bridge's upper level tracks and travelled another few hundred metres before coming to a stop near the Via Rail station on Bridge St. in Niagara Falls, Ont.
The Canada Border Services Agency won't say exactly when the train car crossed the bridge, or when they realized it had happened, but they didn't go to investigate until the afternoon.
However, Michael Scioli, a lead border patrol agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said alarms on the Canadian side of the bridge went off between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m., alerting American border guards. Agents on the U.S. side checked the bridge for anyone or anything attempting to cross, but the car was already out of sight and in Canada.
"Normally when the alarms trip there's plenty of time for our agents to respond to someone trying to cross into the U.S.," he said.
Because the train car rolled from the U.S. into Canada, it was the CBSA's jurisdiction to investigate.
Jean D'Amelio-Swyer, a spokeswoman for the CBSA, sent a statement to QMI Agency saying they are "working with our partners including the rail carrier to review the matter and to ensure that mechanisms are in place to prevent any such re-occurrence."
D'Amelio-Swyer said, the CBSA has sensors on the American side to alert Canadian officials of incoming rail traffic, which are similar to the sensors on the Canadian side of the bridge that alert U.S. customs officials.
She wouldn't say if those sensors also tripped just after 1:30 a.m.
She said the CBSA went to investigate along with the Niagara Regional Police, but wouldn't explain why that didn't happen until 12:47 p.m., 11 hours after the alarms went off alerting the U.S. agents of the crossing.
"The CBSA along with our law enforcement partners from Niagara Regional Police conducted a search of the rail car carrier after it entered Canada and determined the car to be empty," she said.
Asked why police didn't respond until 12:47 p.m., NRP spokesman Const. Derek Watson said: "That's when it was reported to us.
"The report came in initially as a suspicious runaway box car, but was quickly deemed not suspicious," he added.
Asked about the 11-hour gap between the train car entering Canada and the response time, D'Amelio-Swyer said: "As the matter is under review, the CBSA is not able to provide this information."
She said the car was empty when the agencies investigated that afternoon and believes it was empty when it crossed the bridge.
"This particular rail car is used to transport automobiles/cars by rail. This single rail car carrier was empty and we are confident it just got dislodged as cars were being moved into place on the U.S. side," she said.