Train carrying crude oil derails in northern Ontario; no injuries reported, fire at site

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GOGAMA, Ontario — A CN Rail train carrying crude oil derailed early Saturday in northern Ontario, causing numerous tank cars to catch fire and spill into a local river system, officials said.

It was the third CN oil train derailment in northern Ontario in less than a month, and the second in the same area, renewing concerns about the safety of shipping crude oil by train and further suggesting that new safety requirements for tank cars carrying flammable liquids are inadequate. CN said the cars had been retrofitted with protective shields to meet a higher safety standard known as the 1232.

The new standard was enacted in Canada after a fiery derailment of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic oil train derailment in July 2013 in the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec , killed 47 people, but oil trains meeting the new standard continue to derail and catch fire throughout North America.

Ontario Provincial Police said no injuries were reported in the derailment that occurred at about 2:45 a.m. about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest of Gogama, Ontario, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Timmins.

The derailment involved 10 train cars — some of which caught fire and entered the Mattagami River System, police said. CN said the crude oil being transported on the train originated in Alberta and was destined for Eastern Canada.

Residents of Gogama and the nearby Mattagami First Nation were being asked to stay inside until further notice for public safety due to possible smoke inhalation, police said.

Roxanne Veronneau, owner of the Gogama Village Inn, said the fire quickly spread throughout the river and destroyed an exit bridge out of town. Large plumes of smoke could be seen nearby, she said, adding that Gogama narrowly escaped Lac-Megantic's fate.

"My inn is about 200 feet (60 meters) from the train tracks and it's a major concern for the people in town ... If it had happened in the middle of town we wouldn't be having a conversation right now because we would have gotten taken out. It would have been horrible being this close and the track runs right through the middle of Gogama," she said.

Recent derailments in the U.S. and Canada have increased public concern about the increasing number of oil shipments by rail. On Thursday in the U.S. state of Illinois, 21 of 105 cars on a BNSF Railway oil train derailed in an area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi. BNSF said a resulting fire spread to five rail cars. No injuries were reported in the derailment outside the town of Galena, but several small fires were still burning Saturday. The BNSF train also had been retrofitted with protective shields to meet the higher 1232 safety standard.

Also on Thursday, a CN freight train derailed on Thursday about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Hornepayne, Ontario, but there was no leakage from the 16 residue tank cars that contained crude oil or gasoline.

On Feb. 14, a derailment occurred in the same area south of Timmins, when 29 cars loaded with crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed and caused a fire.

Police said the cause of the derailment is still under investigation. Residents of the nearby Mattagami First Nation are being advised not to consume water from the community source at this time.

Local highways have been closed in the area, police said.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has sent investigators to the site.

The U.S. and Canada are trying to coordinate on even newer tank car standards. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx met with safety officials in Canada in December to discuss the issue but neither country has yet settled on a new tank car design, though the U.S. is getting closer. Transportation officials recently sent a proposal for new tank car standards to the White House budget office for review.

"We have already banned the least crash-resistant tank cars from the system; came out last year with tougher new regulations; and have driven the acceleration of the development of a brand new standard with the US," said Zach Segal, a spokesman for Canada's Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

CN spokesman Mark Hallman said CN strongly supports "a reinforced standard for new tank cars built in the future that goes beyond the current CPC 1232 tank car design." He said the vast majority of tank cars are owned by shippers or rail-car leasing companies.

Safety officials are pushing to make the tanker-car fleet even stronger but are confronting opposition from energy companies and other tank car owners.


Associated Press reporter Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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