CN train carrying crude oil derails, catches fire in Northern Ontario

[Editor’s note – Amazingly, there are no pictures yet from the scene! Hmmmm…]

By ERIC ATKINS    The Globe and Mail

Sunday, Feb. 15 2015, 10:23 AM EST, updated Sunday, Feb. 15 2015, 3:47 PM EST

A Canadian National Railway Co. train carrying 100 tank cars of crude oil derailed and caught fire in Northern Ontario early Sunday morning.

A CN spokesman said there were no injuries in the derailment that happened around midnight on Saturday about 80 kilometres south of Timmins, Ont., on the CN mainline in a remote area inaccessible by road.

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Twenty-nine cars jumped the tracks and seven were still on fire on Sunday afternoon.

Rob Johnston, an investigations team manager with the Transportation Safety Board, said the train was travelling eastbound at 40 miles an hour when the crew felt an impact and saw flames about 10 cars behind the locomotive. They halted the train and detached the engines and pulled ahead, according to safety procedures.

The TSB investigators, who are not yet on the scene, will face difficult conditions determining the amount of any spill and the cause due to the site’s remote location and the cold weather, Mr. Johnston said in an interview.

“There is a fire at the scene,” said CN’s Patrick Waldron. “CN has initiated its emergency response plan and has crews responding to the site. That includes firefighting and environmental crews and equipment.”

The train was visually inspected and went through a checkpoint that automatically detects mechanical problems 20 miles before the derailment. The track was visually inspected on Saturday and cleared by a rail flaw detector in the past week, Mr. Waldron said.

The increase in the amount of crude moving on the rails has raised safety concerns that were highlighted by the 2013 tragedy in Lac Megantic, Que., where a runaway train derailed, exploded and killed 47 people. Since then, governments in Canada and the United States have begun phasing in tougher crash standards for tank cars and lower speeds for oil trains. But several trains carrying oil and other petroleum products have crashed and caught fire since the tragedy in Lac Megantic, including derailments in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan in 2014.

Oil producers have increasingly used trains to move crude amid a shortage of pipeline space, and to enjoy the flexibility railways offer. The plunge in oil prices has dampened growth in the crude-by-rail business since the fall, but the number of trains carrying oil is expected to rise this year as new terminals are opened.

For CN, hauling crude and related products accounts for less than 10 per cent overall revenues, a similar amount as that of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.

Via Rail said it has cancelled passenger rail service between Toronto and Winnipeg until the rail line has been cleared. Via said it will offer alternate arrangements for those already en route or due to travel Sunday.

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