PLASTER ROCK, N.B. — Investigators were interested in the brake system and a broken axle on a CN freight train carrying crude oil that derailed in northwestern New Brunswick as the railway company said Wednesday a fire that’s been burning since it left the tracks a day earlier was under control.
CN (TSX:CNR) president Claude Mongeau described the fire as a controlled burn that is normal after a derailment involving cars carrying petroleum products.
He said 17 of the train’s 122 cars derailed near Wapske and five of them were carrying crude oil from Western Canada that was destined for an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B. Four other cars were carrying liquefied petroleum gas.
“We don’t have a lot of information, we are assessing as we speak,” he told a news conference in nearby Plaster Rock. “The impact on the environment, air quality, spill seems to be very contained and hopefully will be manageable.
“The fire is our first priority at the moment. We have the equipment, we have the people and we have all the procedures in place to deal with it in a safe manner.”
Late Wednesday, the company said two of the cars carrying liquefied petroleum gas and one car carrying crude oil were on fire.
Aerial images of the derailment showed a jumble of cars strewn across the tracks in a wooded area with fire and smoke billowing from the wreckage.
New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization said there have been no injuries and the number of people affected by an evacuation has climbed from about 60 to 150 people. The Health Department said as a precaution, people in the area with private wells should not consume their water.
The regularly scheduled freight train ran into trouble about 150 kilometres northwest of Fredericton at about 7 p.m. Tuesday.
CN spokesman Jim Feeny said the only people on board the train — the conductor and engineer — have provided statements, but he wouldn’t reveal what that they said. He added that no one was injured.
The province initially ordered the evacuation of an area within a two-kilometre radius of the fire Tuesday night, but officials said no one was using an evacuation centre set up by the Red Cross as people forced from their homes found places to stay with family and friends.
Feeny said some residents were allowed to temporarily return to the homes Wednesday to briefly check on pets and the condition of their residences. But as of late Wednesday, the fire was still burning and it was unclear how long it would take before it burned itself out, he said.
“On a controlled basis, we and the local authorities are allowing local citizens access to their properties,” he said. “It’s an in and then out kind of thing.”
Rail safety has become a major issue across the country since the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., last summer and as a growing amount of fuel oils and crude petroleum is carried by train across the country.
The federal Transportation Safety Board has sent investigators to the scene of the derailment and based on preliminary information from the company and the RCMP, it said the train’s brakes came on unexpectedly.
“The preliminary details that we received indicate that while the train was proceeding it had experienced an undesired brake application,” Daniel Holbrook, manager of head office and western regional operations for the safety board, said from Gatineau, Que. “The train then came to a stop.”