CN Train Carrying Crude Oil and Propane Derails and Catches Fire – Update
About 50 homes (150 people) near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick were forced to evacuate January 7, 2014 following the derailment of a Canadian National Railway train carrying crude oil and propane (Edmonton Journal, CBC News, CBC News 2, CBC News 3, Edmonton Journal 2). A significant fire resulted with huge clouds of orange smoke and flames billowing high into the air. The fire continued burning 4 days following the derailment and it was not known how long it will continue to burn, nor is it known when evacuated residents will be allowed to return to their homes.
Nineteen cars of 122 derailed, plus an unmanned locomotive. Derailed cars included 9 cars carrying hazardous goods – 5 were loaded with crude oil and 4 were loaded with propane. Firefighters, police, ambulances and a hazardous materials team were dispatched to the site. A 2-kilometre radius around the fire was evacuated. Emergency personnel kept their distance from the fire as a precaution. The Canadian Red Cross also dispatched supplies and a team of 8 disaster volunteers to assist local authorities.
CN conducted a controlled explosion on January 10, aka venting and burning, in an attempt to allow vapour and gas to burn off 3 tanker cars carrying highly volatile propane.
This is not the first CN derailment near Plaster Rock – there was one in 2004 and another in 2005, both involving dangerous goods. One of these derailments was not reported by CN and was one of 2 unreported incidents that prompted the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada to seek a summons in 2006 ordering CN to turn over all of its accident records. An in-depth CBC investigation of these data recently uncovered that Quebec-based CN Railway had not reported to authorities more than 1,840 derailments and other accidents over a 6-year period, including 44 on main rail lines.
A preliminary investigation by the TSB suggests the failure of a wheel-axle combination and a subsequent emergency brake application contributed to this most recent derailment. A cracked wheel was observed by the TSB on one of the cars. The volume of hazardous product spilled and the extent of environmental damage were not revealed by CN. Each tank car can carry up to 650 barrels of oil. Some evacuated residents are worried about the possibility of their water wells being contaminated by spilled oil. Investigators appear certain the derailed tank cars are the DOT-111 model which has been known since 1994 to have a flawed design and punctures easily when derailed.
The train wreck on CN’s main line has caused delays in shipping of goods by rail into the Maritimes.
CBC News reports that 54 trains carrying dangerous goods have derailed in New Brunswick over the past decade.
CN and other railway companies are having trouble convincing the public and municipal politicians that they are adequately addressing railway safety, at a time when the number of oil-train derailments is escalating and the integrity of Canadian National Railway is being questioned by some.