Burning Canadian rail cars keep main line to Pacific blocked

Reuters

By Louise Egan

Oct 21 (Reuters) - Burning rail cars from a derailedCanadian train are taking longer to burn out than CanadianNational Railway (CN) expected, closing the operator'smain line to the Pacific coast and keeping 100 people from theirhomes.

The derailment in the province of Alberta, a reminder of adeadly accident in Quebec in July that killed 47 people,happened early on Saturday morning near the little settlement ofGainford, which was evacuated.

No one was hurt, but 13 of the mixed freight train's 134cars derailed. One car containing highly flammable liquefiedpetroleum gas, also known as propane, exploded and three otherburst into flames. Unlike the disaster in the town ofLac-Magentic, Quebec, the latest accident took place in opencountry.

CN punctured holes in the remaining cars containing propaneto speed up the burning process and had expected the gas to beburned off by Monday morning, allowing residents who had beenevacuated to return home. But by late Sunday the cars stillcontained some propane and the railway called off the operation,Warren Chandler, its senior manager of public and governmentaffairs said.

"After the controlled burn last night, we have left the carsto vent overnight and are now assessing the next steps," he tolda news conference.

The accident has brought rail safety and fuel transportationregulations back to the top of Canada's agenda, especially as itcomes so soon after the Lac-Megantic disaster, in which arunaway crude oil train derailed and exploded in the center ofthe Quebec lakeside town.

Canadian energy producers are increasingly relying on railto transport crude oil and other energy products due to pipeline bottlenecks.

Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver said provincialand federal authorities needed to work together to minimize therisk of more accidents resulting from the crude-by-rail boom.

"We do not think safety has been overlooked, but there's acertain element of mathematics that is undeniable. The moregoods and services you move down the track, the more importantit becomes to double check safety because the simple law ofaverages starts to work against you," McIver said.

LINE DELAYS

CN said the derailment could cause delays of 48 hours forcustomers seeking to ship goods between Vancouver and Edmonton,although "a portion" of shipments were being detoured.

The accident came at a time when Western Canadian grainhandlers, such as Richardson International Limited, Viterra and Cargill Ltd, are already struggling tomove a record breaking harvest from country elevators to ports,including two in British Columbia.

"On a line as substantial as that, (the derailment) is goingto affect grain movement in some way," said Wade Sobkowich,executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association.

The rail cars that caught fire in the Alberta accident werenot the same type as those that exploded in Lac-Megantic, which has been identified as needing reinforcement to help preventleaks.

Canada's Transportation Safety Board, which is investigatingthe accident, said the tanker cars were the DOT-112J modelrather than the DOT-111 type that exploded in Lac-Megantic.

Chandler could not say how the site would be made safe, orhow long this might take.

One equity analyst following CN said the line closure wouldhave a limited impact on the company's financial results andthat the railway may be able to make up the lost traffic oncethe line re-opens.

"At the end of the day, I don't think anybody's going tocare, because accidents happen in the railroad business fromtime to time and stoppages are going to happen from time totime. It doesn't give you any real indication of the sustainedperformance, and that's what investors are buying," saidCanaccord Genuity analyst David Tyerman.

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