Oil Train Derails and Catches Fire in Canada

January 9, 2014

Officials in Canada said a derailed freight train carrying crude oil and propane continued to burn Wednesday morning, while they prepared to launch aerial surveillance and more than 100 residents remained evacuated from their homes. There were no deaths or injuries.

“The biggest concern is the propane cars,” the fire chief of the nearby community of Plaster Rock, Tim Corbin, said Wednesday morning, according to CBC News.
“That’s our biggest concern because if they happen to explode, we’re looking at major damage.”

The derailment late Tuesday in a sparsely populated region of New Brunswick again raised concerns about the increasing use of rail to transport oil throughout North America. In July, 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train carrying crude oil derailed.

Canadian National Railway spokesman Jim Feeny said crews will use a helicopter to determine the source and extent of the fire. Both he and Marc Belliveau, a disaster management associate with the Red Cross, confirmed that it was still burning.

Feeny said it appears that 15 cars and one locomotive derailed, but he said it was not yet clear what caused it. The train consisted of 122 cars and four locomotives.

Of the cars that derailed, four were carrying propane and four were carrying crude oil, Feeny said.

“At this point, we haven’t determined to what extent each of those cars is involved,” he said.

Sharon DeWitt, emergency measures coordinator for Plaster Rock, said no one was killed or injured. She said approximately 150 people were evacuated within a two-kilometer (1.24-mile) radius of the fire.

“Everybody should have some level of concern about this because we don’t know what they are carrying, but we do know that some of what they are carrying is dangerous,” DeWitt said. She said more details would come at a news conference Wednesday morning.

DeWitt said the regularly scheduled freight train ran into trouble around 6 p.m. Tuesday about 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Fredericton in northwest New Brunswick.

DeWitt said the train left the tracks about five kilometers (3 miles) from the village in a wooded area. She said there is one road near the site, which includes a number of homes.

The train’s engineer and conductor, the only people on the train, were not hurt, Feeny said. The conductor and engineer have provided statements, but he would not give details.

A series of recent derailments in North America have worried both officials and residents close to rail lines. On Dec. 30, an oil train derailed and exploded in North Dakota, causing the evacuation of a nearby town but no injuries.

In 2011, around 68,000 carloads of fuel oils and crude petroleum moved along Canadian rail lines, according to Statistics Canada. In 2012, that rose to nearly 113,000. Between January and September of 2013 – the most recent data available – some 118,000 carloads had been shipped via rail.

In November, the federal government required rail companies to tell municipalities when they transport dangerous goods through their communities, after provinces and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities demanded more transparency.

(Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.)

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