By Nia Williams and Scott Haggett
CALGARY, Alberta, June 27 - Five rail cars carrying
hazardous petroleum products derailed on a broken bridge over
the swollen Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, on Thursday, perching
perilously close to the water as emergency crews rushed to
prevent a spill.
The cars contain petroleum distillate, a flammable light oil
product that is used in paint and polishes or can be mixed with
the sludgy crude from the Canadian oil sands so the crude can
flow in pipelines.
The tanker cars left the tracks but remained upright and
were not leaking, operator Canadian Pacific Railway
said. CP blamed increased flows on the river for scouring away
one of the bridge's supporting piers.
The Bow, one of two rivers flowing through Calgary, Canada's
oil capital, reached record levels in devastating weekend floods
that swamped many neighborhoods and likely caused billions of
dollars worth of damage. The river is still flowing at three
times the normal rate.
Part of bridge sank two feet toward the river after the
accident, but Calgary Deputy Fire Chief Ken Uzeloc said it had
stopped sagging. The Bow River supplies drinking water to many
communities and cities downstream of Calgary.
"The first step is secure the remaining rail cars that are
there to ensure if the bridge does collapse completely, the cars
are not floating down the river," Uzeloc told a news conference.
"We are trying to identify a position downstream where we
can set up booms in case we do get any leakage."
Mark Seland, general manager of communications and public
affairs for Canadian Pacific, said the bridge had been inspected
18 times since the flooding started in Calgary but the company
had not inspected the underwater piers.
CP Chief Executive Hunter Harrison told the Globe and Mail
newspaper there was no way of inspecting below water.
"We couldn't have seen anything from an inspection on top
unless there was severe movement as a result of the failure down
below. So we would have normally probably put divers in to
inspect, but the current was too fast," Harrison said.
CP said information was not readily available on how many
trains have crossed the bridge since it reopened, how much they
weighed, or how fast they were traveling.
The derailed cars were in a train of 102 cars, he said.
CP Rail is in the middle of a major restructuring designed
to improve what had been the worst rate of operating efficiency
among North America's major railroads.
Under the leadership of industry veteran Hunter Harrison, CP
is eliminating as many as 6,000 jobs and reviewing all its
operations. The company's latest results showed the best
first-quarter performance in its 132-year history.
"We've seen a lot of job losses at CP. How many bridge
inspectors did they fire?" Calgary's popular mayor, Naheed
Nenshi, asked at a news conference on Thursday. "I have a lot of
questions and not a lot of answers."
Seland said CP had not laid off any bridge inspectors in the
Calgary's emergency services group said it now plans to
bring in pipes and other rail cars to offload the petroleum
products, and then use a crane to lift the derailed cars off the
The accident triggered another round of road closures in
Calgary, where most of Canada's biggest oil and gas companies
are based, and authorities enforced a half mile evacuation zone
around the bridge.
Transport in the city of 1.1 million people had barely got
back to normal after the floods, which also affected other
communities across southern Alberta.
The derailment could fan concerns about the safety of moving
crude oil and petroleum products by rail, which is becoming
increasingly popular as environmental worries have slowed
Statistics Canada data showed 14,211 tank cars were loaded
with fuel oils and crude petroleum in March 2013, a 63 percent
increase from the year-earlier levels.
City authorities said the rail bridge is under federal
jurisdiction and is not a bridge the city of Calgary would have
inspected in the aftermath of the floods.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it was on
site conducting an investigation into the cause of the accident.
"Should any deficiencies be identified, we will not hesitate
to take appropriate action," spokeswoman Karine Martel said.