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Derailed Train Carrying Tar Sands Diluent Slumps Over Flooded Bow River

A failing rail bridge could dump train cars possibly full of tar sands diluent into the swollen Bow River this morning.*

According to emergency personnel, six cars—five full of petroleum-based fuel products and one empty—are slowly sinking toward the water.

“The bridge is continuing to drop as we speak, so that distance between the failure point and where the bridge decking is, is starting to open up more,” he said. “It appears that the bridge is failing.”

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP) says the cars were heading east when they derailed.

"They are all upright," he said of the derailed cars. "There are no leaks reported and no injuries reported as a result of the incident."

Josh Wingrove from the Globe and Mail recently reported on twitter that the cars are carrying a product used to dilute tar sands bitumen.

Greenberg told CTV News Calgary that the bridge was inspected on Saturday and has been used several times since. Rail bridge inspection is under federal jurisdiction.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that he knows many railway employees been laid off and speculates that too many of them might have been bridge inspectors.

Acting fire chief Ken Uzeloc likened the pile-up of multiple emergencies to a training exercise.

He worries that a fire may cause black smoke to billow onto the already traffic-choked Deerfoot Trail expressway, causing more damage.

"Each car could have about 80,000 pounds of product in that car and they're all flammable liquids, so if something does go wrong, we could have a very big pile of burning material. And also then you have the smoke and the combustibles in the air that come off that," acting fire chief Ken Uzeloc told the Canadian Press.

Workers are currently tethering the cars together, trying to prevent the cars and their cargo from falling into the Bow River below.

This latest breakdown comes just over a month after a CP derailment 150 km east of Saskatoon. Earlier this year, a derailment near White River, Ontario leaked up to 400 barrels of oil into a remote area 700 kilometers northeast of Toronto.

Given the current discussion surrounding pipeline safety, these failures have prompted Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart to ask whether we should be transporting oil at all.

“Derailments are not uncommon. According to Emile Therien, Past President of the Canada Safety Council, there were 103 derailments in 2011 on ‘main tracks’ (i.e. the lines between stations and or terminals) and 485 derailments on “non-main tracks” (mainly in yards or terminals).”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly stated that North America must choose between rail and pipelines to transport oil.

“That is nonsense,” writes Stewart. “[T]he Canadian government is basically saying we have to pick our poison, while hoping no one notices that there are healthier options on the menu.”

*Update 28/06/13 3:00pm PST: These train cars have since been removed.

Image Credit: Malcom via Flickr

As a freelance writer, Erika Thorkelson is dedicated to showcasing compelling stories that illuminate our world and how we live.…

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