It was too close for comfort on Sunday when a CN train derailed sending 12 tanker cars off the track just a stone’s throw away from houses on River’s Edge Place in the Crossing at River’s Edge subdivision, in Sturgeon County, north of Sturgeon Road. Two of the cars leaked 50 to 100 litres of crude oil and 46 homes were evacuated.
While no one was hurt in the mishap some area residents were unnerved by the experience. County fire chief Pat Mahoney said a single spark could have made a difference since crude oil is highly flammable.
Forty-six homes were evacuated in a mainly rural area with a relatively small spill. What if this had happened in a more urban area?
Canadians are well aware of the worst case scenario. It has only been four years since a derailment of tanker cars carrying crude oil incinerated the town of Lac Megantic, killing 47 people.
One other factor may have made a big difference in the outcome in the Sturgeon County incident. The tanker cars involved in Sunday’s derailment were the enhanced variety that Transport Canada required as of November 2016. Transport Minister Marc Garneau ordered the change in the wake of the Lac Megantic disaster, when it was deemed that the previous tank cars were too easily punctured on impact.
The local cleanup continued Monday and Tuesday and the rail line was expected to reopen today. But there are many questions including the cause.
With 46,000 km of rail line running through communities across the country the danger is real. The danger is magnified by the fact that there is more pressure on rail lines to carry hazardous goods. With the difficulty of getting any new pipelines approved, there is more pressure to ship crude oil by rail. While pipelines are unpopular, they are still the safest way to ship oil.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada will investigate this incident. Residents in the area need to know that everything is being done to prevent such mishaps from occurring. We also need to know the state of the rail infrastructure in our area to ensure that hazardous goods are travelling through our region as safely as possible.
St. Albert, Morinville and Sturgeon County have hundreds of rail cars shuttling along rail lines every week delivering goods for forestry, agriculture and energy industries.
The amount of hazardous goods currently moving through the area has never been freely shared. In the past CN has said it can move any commodity on its network at any time in response to customer demand.
Residents deserve to know the amount of dangerous goods being moved in real time so that we can be prepared in the event of a disaster. We also want to know the state of infrastructure so that we know that all precautions are being taken. Accidents happen but when they involve dangerous goods there is serious risk to the public. Let this week’s accident be a wake-up to the risks all around us.