Mechanical Failure Causes CN Rail Train Carrying Crude to Derail, Ignite in New Brunswick

A Canadian National (CN) Rail freight train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire Tuesday night near the northwest New Brunswick town of Plaster Rock. No injuries have been reported.

The Transportation Safety Board ((TSB) reports that 17 cars are believed to have derailed, eight carrying dangerous goods and one a locomotive.  According to CN Rail President and CEO Claude Monganu five of the derailed cars were carrying crude oil, and the other four propane.

The 122-car train was heading to the Irving Oil Refinery in St. John from central Canada. The derailment occurred just after 7 pm about five km from Plaster Rock, in Wapske.

Dan Holbrook with the TSB told the CBC the incident was cause by a mechanical failure affecting the train's breaking system. A ruptured airline connecting the cars caused an emergency break application, he said. 

"Trains have a continuous pipe running throughout the train that supplies air to the brake system on every car," he said.

"If that brake pipe comes apart, that causes the brakes throughout the train to go into emergency…and that means the train will stop as fast as it can."

The incident comes just over a week after an accident in North Dakota caused several oil train cars to burst into flames and explode. The North Dakota accident is just one among many high-profile oil train accidents to occur within the last six months, including Lac-Mégantic where 47 people perished as the result of a tanker train derailment.

The TSB has deployed a team of investigators to the scene, where the fires still burn. The site is under the control of authorities with the local fire department.

Premier David Alward attended a news conference this morning to express gratitude there were no injuries and said there appeard to be no serious impact to the environment. 

"Every day we have the movement of goods and services across our country by many different modes of transportation," said Alward. "Every mode of transportation is not without risk.

"What is important to realize is how we are able to respond to situations when they happen really determines how we are able to manage as we go forward."

The TSB will further investigate the site when they determine it is safe to do so.

"The team will evaluate the accident and document the derailment site, inspect the equipment and track infrastructure and identify any items that may require closer inspection. They will examine the maintenance history of the train, operation of the equipment and operation policies, meteorological conditions, and review any human factors," states a TSB press release.

First responders were forced to stay a safe distance from the fire, which was large enough to be seen from a "significant" distance away, reports CBC. A 2km radius including 45 households has been evacuated, said Feeny, director of public and government affairs for CN Rail.

Plaster Rock mayor Alexis Fenner reportedly said all roads were blocked and shut down by the police after the derailment.

"On our balcony, we can just see flames. Every now and then, there's a huge fireball, as if there was an explosion," Plaster Rock resident Carol Jervis told Global News.

Another resident said her husband went to the area and "could see flames shooting in the air from quite far away. He could see it very clearly. It was about 50 to 60 feet he told me he could see."

J.D. Saddler, a resident of Wapske, told CBC that he was driving back there from Plaster Rock when the derailment occurred, and he saw "a great big cloud of orange smoke and the flames were really high in the air, the smoke was really high in the air."

At the time, there was no given time frame for when crews could move in. Feeny said CN Rail senior managers and hazardous materials experts were en route from Moncton, Montreal and Toronto.

An evacuation centre was set up at Plaster Rock, with the Canadian Red Cross dispatching volunteers with supplies to assist local authorities at the centre. Bill Lawlor, Canadian Red Cross director of disaster management for New Brunswick, said that this was a precautionary measure, as the area is sparsely populated and the small numbers impacted by the evacuation would probably stay with friends or family.

Lawlor added that the volunteers were ready with blankets and cots should any residents require shelter, or if circumstances should change.

According to the CBC, another derailment that occurred at Plaster Rock was one of two incidents that led the TSB to issue a summons in 2006, requiring CN Rail to turn in all its records.

The CBC's investigation discovered that CN Rail did not report more than 1,800 derailments and accidents over a six-year period, including 44 derailments and one collision on "key arterial rail tracks."

The derailment comes days after a joint task force announced by BC and Alberta premiers Christy Clark and Alison Redford handed in a report exploring the feasibility of transporting oil by rail as a backup in case pipeline projects fall through.

Image Credit: Andrew Jenkins / Facebook


Indrapramit Das is a freelance writer, critic and artist. His work has appeared in Slant Magazine, Vancouver Weekly, Strange Horizons…

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