New Brunswick train derailment fire renews questions of oil-by-rail’s dangers – by Kim MacKrael and Jane Taber (Globe and Mail – January 9, 2014)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

OTTAWA AND HALIFAX — A fiery derailment in New Brunswick Tuesday night was the third time a crude-laden train has caught fire in recent weeks.

Three of the tank cars that derailed in New Brunswick on Tuesday night were loaded at a terminal in southwestern Manitoba, Canadian National Railway Co. said. The location raises the question of whether some of the oil originated in the Bakken region.

On Thursday, CN spokesperson Jim Feeny said a sudden wheel or axle failure likely caused the train to derail. “The focus of the investigation will be what caused the sudden failure of the wheel or wheel and axle combination and when did it occur,” he said.

The safety of moving oil by rail has been under scrutiny since last July, when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que., killing 47 people. U.S. officials have since warned that oil from the Bakken formation, which straddles North Dakota and parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, may be more volatile than traditional oil.

The company did not clarify on Wednesday whether any of the oil involved in the derailment the more volatile Bakken variety, which has been subject to growing questions about the dangers of transporting that type of crude by rail.

Witnesses in New Brunswick described a massive fireball and cloud of smoke at the site of the accident, which forced at least 150 people from their homes. By Wednesday evening, CN said the fire had diminished, but three tank cars, including one that was filled with crude, were still burning.

A total of 17 cars carrying crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas and other goods derailed near Plaster Rock on Tuesday evening, causing fireballs and a huge plume of black smoke. No one was injured. Five of the tankers carried crude and were on their way to Irving Oil’s refinery in Saint John, N.B.

The crude in three of the cars was loaded at a terminal in southwestern Manitoba, according to CN spokesman Mark Hallman. He said the oil was from wells in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but would not confirm whether they were in the Bakken region.

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