More than 50 people assist with cleanup after derailment, oil spill

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Sturgeon Valley residents are back home after a train pileup and oil spill derailed what would have been a quiet Sunday afternoon for most.

Residents from 46 homes in the Sturgeon Valley region were evacuated Sunday afternoon after 12 tanker cars derailed from the CN rail line just off of River’s Edge Place north of Sturgeon Road at about 1:30 p.m., causing a small oil spill. The crash site is in the midst of the Noroncal and Crossing at River’s Edge neighbourhoods.

The cars, each of which would have weighed more than 100 tonnes, piled up on top of each other, with a few leaving the tracks and crashing through nearby trees. One of them ended up within 20 metres of one homeowner’s backyard fire pit.

Trains go by here all the time, said that homeowner, who didn’t wish to give her name, and this one sounded just like all the others at first.

“All of a sudden it started getting very rattle-y,” she said.

“When I looked out, I could see the tankers roll off the tracks.”

The homeowner said that she called 911 immediately.

About 25 members of the Morinville, Namao and Sturgeon County fire departments arrived shortly after, said county fire chief Pat Mahoney. They soon determined that two of the tanks were leaking crude oil – about 50 to 100 L worth, CN spokesperson Kate Fenske said – and ordered the area evacuated.

Although there wasn’t any immediate risk, crude oil is highly flammable, so crews had residents leave just in case, Mahoney said.

“Any kind of spark, and it could have been a different situation.”

There were no injuries or property damage as a result of the crash, reports Sturgeon County spokesperson Sheila Moore. Fenske said two of the tankers leaked 50 to 100 L of oil.

Resident Tami Garside said she was coming home from church Sunday when she was turned back by emergency crews. Seeing the crash site for the first time the next day left her deeply distraught, as it was mere metres from her back fence.

“I’m just shook up because of the possibility of it being so much worse,” she said, sniffling.

“It’s just too close to home.”

Cleanup efforts

Residents were allowed back home at about 7 p.m. Sunday after CN officials deemed it safe to do so. Some stayed at hotels overnight at CN’s expense.

At least 50 people from CN, Transport Canada, Environment Canada, and other agencies were on site Monday morning to assist with the cleanup, Mahoney said. The smothering stench of oil still weighed heavily around the crash site, along with the bang and clang of heavy machinery.

Crews stopped the oil leak Sunday and contained the spill, Fenske said. Cleanup and repairs to the track were likely to take a few days. The cause of the crash was still under investigation.

A St. Albert CN train engineer (speaking on background as he had not been authorized to speak to the press) said the cars involved in this crash appeared to be DOT-112 models, each of which would have weighed about 140 tonnes and held roughly 120,000 L (or about 755 barrels) of oil fully loaded.

“They can hold a lot.”

The derailed tank cars would be considered write-offs by their owners and likely be scrapped, the engineer said.

Mahoney said crews were repairing the track and draining the derailed tank cars into undamaged ones Monday. He urged residents to drive carefully in this region for the next few days, as there was a considerable amount of heavy machinery at work.

While the county has had car-train collisions before, Mahoney said this was the first derailment in Sturgeon he knew of in 20 years.

“We’re very fortunate. It could have been much worse.”

Questions on the derailment should go to CN at 1-888-888-5909.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.