By Louise Egan
Oct 21 Burning rail cars from a derailed
Canadian train are taking longer to burn out than Canadian
National Railway (CN) expected, closing the operator's
main line to the Pacific coast and keeping 100 people from their
The derailment in the province of Alberta, a reminder of a
deadly accident in Quebec in July that killed 47 people,
happened early on Saturday morning near the little settlement of
Gainford, which was evacuated.
No one was hurt, but 13 of the mixed freight train's 134
cars derailed. One car containing highly flammable liquefied
petroleum gas, also known as propane, exploded and three other
burst into flames. Unlike the disaster in the town of
Lac-Magentic, Quebec, the latest accident took place in open
CN punctured holes in the remaining cars containing propane
to speed up the burning process and had expected the gas to be
burned off by Monday morning, allowing residents who had been
evacuated to return home. But by late Sunday the cars still
contained some propane and the railway called off the operation,
Warren Chandler, its senior manager of public and government
"After the controlled burn last night, we have left the cars
to vent overnight and are now assessing the next steps," he told
a news conference.
The accident has brought rail safety and fuel transportation
regulations back to the top of Canada's agenda, especially as it
comes so soon after the Lac-Megantic disaster, in which a
runaway crude oil train derailed and exploded in the center of
the Quebec lakeside town.
Canadian energy producers are increasingly relying on rail
to transport crude oil and other energy products due to pipeline
Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver said provincial
and federal authorities needed to work together to minimize the
risk of more accidents resulting from the crude-by-rail boom.
"We do not think safety has been overlooked, but there's a
certain element of mathematics that is undeniable. The more
goods and services you move down the track, the more important
it becomes to double check safety because the simple law of
averages starts to work against you," McIver said.
CN said the derailment could cause delays of 48 hours for
customers seeking to ship goods between Vancouver and Edmonton,
although "a portion" of shipments were being detoured.
The accident came at a time when Western Canadian grain
handlers, such as Richardson International Limited, Viterra
and Cargill Ltd, are already struggling to
move a record breaking harvest from country elevators to ports,
including two in British Columbia.
"On a line as substantial as that, (the derailment) is going
to affect grain movement in some way," said Wade Sobkowich,
executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association.
The rail cars that caught fire in the Alberta accident were
not the same type as those that exploded in Lac-Megantic, which
has been identified as needing reinforcement to help prevent
Canada's Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating
the accident, said the tanker cars were the DOT-112J model
rather than the DOT-111 type that exploded in Lac-Megantic.
Chandler could not say how the site would be made safe, or
how long this might take.
One equity analyst following CN said the line closure would
have a limited impact on the company's financial results and
that the railway may be able to make up the lost traffic once
the line re-opens.
"At the end of the day, I don't think anybody's going to
care, because accidents happen in the railroad business from
time to time and stoppages are going to happen from time to
time. It doesn't give you any real indication of the sustained
performance, and that's what investors are buying," said
Canaccord Genuity analyst David Tyerman.