This morning, a CN train carrying dangerous goods derailed near Clair and Wadena, Saskatchewan, sending plumes of smoke at least 30 metres into the air and forcing residents from their homes (CBC News, CTV News).
The train consisted of three locomotives and 100 cars – 26 cars derailed. An explosion and fire came from petroleum distillates which spilled from two of the derailed cars. The fire was huge according to local sources, and was still burning this evening. Local officials were worried about the toxic smoke and kept people eight kilometres away from the scene. About 50 people from Clair were evacuated, as well as others from farm homes in the area. Evacuated people were sent to an operations and reception centre set up in Wadena. School students in Wadena were kept indoors during the day, as a precaution. Local farmers were worried about the safety of their livestock. Huge plumes of thick, black, heavy smoke and fire were reported as local fire departments wrestled with the fire. Provincial officials said detours would remain in place until the area is safe.
Six of the derailed cars were loaded with hazardous materials, four with either hydrochloric acid or caustic soda and two with petroleum distillates. CN refuses to provide real-time data on the hazardous materials they haul across the country, which means municipal fire departments are often left guessing what materials they must deal with in order to protect local residents whenever there is a derailment and spill such as this one.
The advocacy organizations, Transport Action Canada and Environmental Defence, expressed serious concerns about the derailment and about rail safety in general in Canada. Adam Scott of Environmental Defence said, rail companies like CN are not required to publicly disclose the types of hazardous materials being transported on trains. “It’s unacceptable. The municipalities themselves, the communities have no power, no control, and in this case no information even over what’s being run through the rail lines.” Harry Gow of Transport Action Canada, said, “I would say that if one wants to ensure safety in moving hazardous goods, one has to have inspectors who are empowered to do the work, that are trained to do more than just check the company’s paperwork, and are sufficiently numerous and well-resourced to get out on the ground and see what’s going on. The incident in Saskatchewan today is fortunately not occurring in a large town, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of oversight by Transport Canada.”
This is the sixth reported CN derailment in Saskatchewan and the 29th reported CN derailment in the Prairie Provinces during the past year. CN does not report many of its derailments, so the actual number is undoubtedly higher. See CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for details of hundreds of other Canadian National Railway derailments, spills and fires in Canada and the U.S.