Canadian oil train derails after brakes activated

Fire burns on the horizon at the scene of a train derailment near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, on Wednesday, Jan. 8. A freight train carrying crude oil and propane derailed and caught fire in a sparsely populated region of New Brunswick late Tuesday.

A freight train carrying crude oil and propane derailed and caught fire in New Brunswick, leading to the evacuation of about two dozen nearby homes.

TORONTO — A Canadian National Railway train carrying crude oil and propane derailed and caught fire in New Brunswick on Tuesday night after the emergency brakes were activated, federal safety officials said on Wednesday.

The accident, the latest in a string of derailments that have put the surging crude-by-rail business under scrutiny, involved 17 cars on the railway's main line, Canadian National Chief Executive Claude Mongeau told a news conference.

Related: Senators: Put cameras on train tracks, engineers

Five cars carrying crude from western Canada and four carrying propane were among the derailed cars, he said.

There were no injuries, but the fire that followed the derailment burned through the night. Approximately 150 residents were evacuated, local officials said.

"At this point, the issue is contained, but of course things are evolving and we will be addressing the situation with the greatest possible safety," said Mongeau, adding that CN can reroute trains through alternate lines.

"It's premature to talk about the exact content of each car, but the origin of the crude is from Western Canada."

He said some of the cars were on their way to Irving Oil's Saint John refinery, which an Irving spokeswoman confirmed.

"The exact sequence of events has yet to be determined," said Transportation Safety Board official Dan Holbrook.

While no one was hurt, the accident revived memories of a devastating derailment last July, when a runaway train carrying light crude from North Dakota's Bakken region exploded in the heart of the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47.

Related: How a train slid away and devastated a Canadian town

The CN train was not carrying the ultra-light Bakken oil from North Dakota that has exploded in other recent crude-by-rail accidents.

However, other types of very light crude are also produced in Canada, and several market sources said it was likely that the train was hauling one of these grades.

"Based on what we typically see processed at Irving's refinery a lighter crude is most likely what was contained in those rail cars, although we cannot know for sure," said David Bouckhout, senior commodity strategist at TD Securities.

UNDESIRED BRAKE APPLICATION

The derailment was caused by an "undesired brake application" — a term used to describe the application of emergency brakes in response to a problem, said John Cottreau, another spokesman for the TSB.

"As soon as the connection between two cars is separated, is broken, trains go into emergency braking," he said, adding the agency didn't yet know why it happened in this case. It was not clear whether the cars were full at the time of the crash, Cottreau said.

One car toward the front of the train derailed and was found to have a broken axle, said Holbrook, while the remaining 16 cars came off the rails toward the rear of the train.

Asked whether the axle failure could have been the cause of the derailment or whether it happened as a result of the derailment, Holbrook told Reuters he did not want to speculate.

Related: Missing people in Quebec train crash presumed dead

CN spokesman Mark Hallman said the company's dangerous goods specialists had approached the site early on Wednesday, but had not yet determined which cars were on fire, he said.

CN shares were down 1.4 percent to C$58.76 around midday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

New Brunswick issued an air quality advisory east of the derailment and asked residents to take precautions. Officials said the impact of the derailment and fire on the environment appeared to be minimal.

CN said the train originated from Toronto and was headed to Moncton, New Brunswick, about 185 miles east of the site of the accident. The cars were headed to a number of destinations in Atlantic Canada.

 

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