Another derailment of a train carrying crude oil stirs safety debate in Canada

Canadian oil train derails due to brake fault

A Canadian National Railway train carrying crude oil and propane derailed and caught fire in New Brunswick on Tuesday after an ‘undesired emergency brake application.’

Though no one was hurt, the incident bares strong resemblance to the tragic crash that killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, in the Canadian province of Quebec, last July.

Following the Tuesday’s derailment, four tank cars with crude oil and four carrying propane caught fire and kept burning through the night, prompting the evacuation of 150 residents.

The authorities do not know yet what triggered the emergency brake application.

"As soon as the connection between two cars is separated, is broken, trains go into emergency braking," said John Cottreau, a spokesman for the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB).

One of the derailed cars toward the front of the train was found to have a broken axle. However, the TSB hasn’t been able to confirm yet whether the broken axle was the main culprit of the accident.

The latest in a string of derailments involving trains carrying crude oil in Canada, the incident has stirred to the ongoing debate about safety of oil-by-rail shipments in North America.

A large rail car manufacturer called for the industry to quickly press ahead with rules to retrofit older tank cars to make them safer. Although it is unclear whether older DOT-111 cars, long seen as flawed, were involved in the New Brunswick crash.

The train travelling from Toronto to Moncton, New Brunswick, about 300 km (185 miles) east of the site of the accident, was not carrying the ultra-light Bakken oil from North Dakota that exploded in other recent crude-by-rail accidents.

However, other types of very light crude are also produced in Canada, and several market sources said it was likely that the train was hauling one of these grades.

"Based on what we typically see processed at Irving's refinery, a lighter crude is most likely what was contained in those rail cars, although we cannot know for sure," said David Bouckhout, senior commodity strategist at TD Securities.

After the Lac-Megantic disaster, Canada told railways they will have to start telling municipalities what goods they have been transporting through their jurisdictions.

In December, the Canadian government said it was also considering classifying crude oil as a higher-risk, dangerous product requiring emergency response plans for shipment by rail.

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