CN trying to determine cause of NB derailment, fire

by By Kevin Bissett, THE CANADIAN PRESS

PLASTER ROCK, NB—Officials with CN were planning to do an aerial surveillance of a train carrying propane and crude oil that derailed in northwestern New Brunswick to try to determine the source and extent of an ongoing fire, a spokesman for the company said Wednesday.

Jim Feeny said crews will use a helicopter to get a better understanding of what is burning in Wapske, a remote community near Plaster Rock where the train went off the track at about 7 pm Tuesday. He said the fire continued to burn early Wednesday but had been contained, adding that they need to get more information about the blaze and any dangers before sending in crews to start cleaning up the wreck.

He said initial indications are that 15 cars and one locomotive derailed, though the train consisted of 122 cars and four locomotives. One car was near the front of the train, and the other 14 and the locomotive were near the end. Of the cars that derailed, four were carrying propane and another four were carrying crude oil, Feeny said.

“At this point we haven’t determined to what extent each of those cars is involved,” he said. “We have to determine the number and the contents of the actual fire—that is the most important thing going ahead.”

Feeny said it’s not yet clear what caused the train to derail. He said the only people on board—the conductor and engineer—have provided statements, but he wouldn’t reveal what that they said. He added that no one was injured.

“We are deploying full emergency response…from Moncton, Toronto and Montreal,” he said. “Their priority is to protect the safety of the people and the environment.”

An evacuation of about 50 to 60 people within a two-kilometre radius of the fire remained in effect as the province’s Emergency Operations Centre monitored smoke from the fire.

The regional medical officer of health said the fire could affect air quality east of the derailment. Dr. Yves Leger advised that when heavy smoke affects air quality, infants, children, pregnant women, older adults, smokers and people with chronic heart or lung diseases should stay indoors to reduce their exposure.

Sharon DeWitt, emergency measures co-ordinator for Plaster Rock, said Tuesday that firefighters, police and ambulances were on site and that a news conference would be held Wednesday as more information became available.

An evacuation centre for those who had been forced out of their homes was set up in a local arena, DeWitt said, though it appeared most if not all residents were staying with family and friends.

Rail safety has become a major issue across the country since the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., last summer and as a growing amount of fuel oils and crude petroleum is carried by train across the country.

Steve Legace, a resident of Plaster Rock, said tensions had calmed considerably since Tuesday evening when many didn’t know the extent of the risk.

“It’s kind of unnerving, I guess, knowing that we have things that close going through our village and not knowing what’s being carried on these vessels,” he said Wednesday. “Things seem to have calmed down and people are not as upset as they were and a little more at rest now.”

Marc Belliveau, a disaster management associate with the Red Cross, said officials were still in the assessment phase but confirmed that the fire was still burning.

“They let it burn overnight to burn off the fumes. Luckily for us the wind is blowing away from the community, so that’s good because it did not expand the evacuation zone at all,” he said, adding that bitter temperatures were placing a strain on first responders.

New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization said it was notified of the derailment around 8 pm. Hazardous materials crews were dispatched and the site has been secured by the RCMP.

The federal Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to the site to investigate.

The regularly scheduled freight train was headed to Moncton from Central Canada when it ran into trouble about 150 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.