Western Canada train hauling fuel derails, burns; no injuries

Reuters

* Westbound CN Rail train derails near Edmonton

* One car of liquid petroleum gas explodes, three on fire

* No injuries, but critics warn of crude-by-rail risks

* CN promises to clean up crash site, repair damage

By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Oct 19 (Reuters) - A train carrying crude oil andliquefied petroleum gas derailed and caught fire in WesternCanada on Saturday, in an accident that brought back memories ofa deadly crash in Quebec this summer.

But Saturday's accident, in open country just outside thetiny settlement of Gainford, Alberta, caused no injuries, andemergency services said they were opting to let the fire burnitself out rather than approach the blaze.

The 134-car mixed freight train was operated by CanadianNational Railway, Canada's largest railroad, and washeading from Alberta's capital, Edmonton, to Vancouver, on thePacific Coast.

CN Chief Operating Officer Jim Vena said 13 cars hadderailed, and three, all carrying flammable liquid petroleumgas, caught fire. The derailed cars that carried crude oil hadnot leaked or caught fire, he said.

"CN will clean this up, remediate any damage," Vena told anevening news conference, noting that both the track and thetrain had been inspected in the last few days. It was too earlyto say what caused the accident, he said.

Rail safety has become a central issue in Canada since theJuly disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a runaway traincarrying crude oil exploded in giant fireballs in the center ofthe lakeside town, killing 47 people.

A key focus in the rail safety debate is the booming volumesof crude oil shipments by rail as pipelines fill to capacity andproducers seek other ways to get their oil to refineries.

Weekly figures from the Association of American Railroads,which do not distinguish between shipments of refined fuel andcrude oil, showed 6,937 rail cars were loaded with petroleum andpetroleum products in Canada in the week ended Oct. 12, up 13percent from the same week in 2012. That is roughly equivalentto 594,600 barrels per day.

The growth shows no sign of slowing, with around 550,000barrels per day of dedicated crude-by-rail terminals due to beoperational in Western Canada by the end of 2014.

OPEN COUNTRY

But in contrast to Lac-Megantic, where the explosions razeddozens of buildings in the center of town, pictures from nearGainford showed Saturday's fire was burning alongside a road inopen country, with fields and forests on either side.

Gainford residents were asked to leave their homes becauseof the risk of another explosion, and Canada's TransportationSafety Board said the evacuation would continue for as long asneeded - maybe 24, 48 or 72 hours. The main east-west highwaytraversing central Alberta was closed.

Gainford, some 80 km (50 miles) from Edmonton, has apopulation of just over 100 people.

Saturday's derailment came days after a CN train carryinganhydrous ammonia derailed in Sexsmith, Alberta. A CN freighttrain derailed near the town of Landis, in the prairie provinceof Saskatchewan, on Sept. 25, sending 17 cars off the track, oneof which leaked lubrication oil.

But Vena said that even with the latest derailment, CN'ssafety record was running at the same rate as last year, whichwas the company's safest year on record.

"We have come a long way to improve safety, and we are goingfurther," he said, promising to work closely with the localauthorities and with the TSB, which has sent a team ofinvestigators to the crash site.

On Thursday, the Canadian government imposed new regulationsrequiring tests to be conducted on crude oil before it istransported or imported into Canada. In the Lac-Megantic crash, inspectors determined that the oil the train carried was moreexplosive than labeled.

Critics say the rush to use rail to transport crude andsidestep pipeline bottlenecks means safety is being overlooked,raising the risk of more derailments.

"This is becoming the new normal as we have movements ofcrude-by-rail skyrocketing at a time when the safety standardshave not kept up," said Keith Stewart, climate and energycampaign coordinator at environmental activist group Greenpeace.

"We have train cars which were never designed for dealingwith these kind of hazardous and explosive products," he said.

Past concern has centered on the older DOT111 tanker carssuch as the ones involved in the Lac-Megantic crash, which lacktwin hulls or extra strengthening.

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