published Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Train carrying oil derails, catches fire in Canada

Fire burns on the horizon at the scene of a train derailment near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick on Wednesday Jan. 8, 2014.
Fire burns on the horizon at the scene of a train derailment near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick on Wednesday Jan. 8, 2014.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PLASTER ROCK, New Brunswick — Officials in Canada said a derailed freight train carrying crude oil and propane continued to burn Wednesday, and about 150 residents remained evacuated from their homes. There were no deaths or injuries.

Of the 17 cars that derailed late Tuesday in New Brunswick province, five contain crude oil and four contain propane, said Claude Mongeau, the chief executive of CN Rail.

Some of the propane cars are venting and some of the crude cars are burning, he said.

"It is contained, but it is evolving," Mongeau said. He said it was too early to say what caused the 122-car train to derail. He apologized at a news conference and said he hoped families could return to their homes soon.

The derailment in a sparsely populated region, roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the U.S. border and northern Maine, again raised concerns about the increasing use of rail to transport oil throughout North America. In July, 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train carrying crude oil derailed.

Andrew Simpson, 30, was playing cards with his uncle Tuesday evening when the train went off the tracks less than a mile (1.6 kilometer) away. "The table just kind of rumbled, and out the window went a real bright orange," he said. "We looked out and the whole train yard was on fire. We panicked and called (emergency services)."

New Brunswick Premier David Alward said there was minimal impact on the environment.

Sharon DeWitt, emergency measures coordinator for the nearby community of Plaster Rock, said no one was killed or injured. She said people were evacuated within a two-kilometer (1.24-mile) radius of the fire.

Officials said the regularly scheduled freight train ran into trouble around 7 p.m. Tuesday about 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Fredericton. Mongeau said the crude oil was from western Canada and was destined for an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

DeWitt said the train left the tracks about five kilometers (3 miles) from the village in a wooded area. She said there is one road near the site, which includes a number of homes.

The train's engineer and conductor, the only people on the train, were not hurt, Canadian National Railway spokesman Jim Feeny said. Both have provided statements, but he would not give details.

A series of recent derailments in North America have worried both officials and residents close to rail lines. On Dec. 30, an oil train derailed and exploded in North Dakota, causing the evacuation of a nearby town but no injuries.

In 2011, around 68,000 carloads of fuel oils and crude petroleum moved along Canadian rail lines, according to Statistics Canada. In 2012, that rose to nearly 113,000. Between January and September of 2013 -- the most recent data available -- some 118,000 carloads had been shipped via rail.

In November, the federal government required rail companies to tell municipalities when they transport dangerous goods through their communities, after provinces and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities demanded more transparency.

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