Train derailment: Oil train catches fire in Canada

Train derailment in Canada forces about 150 people from their homes, as oil and propane continued to burn. The train derailment is the latest in a series of accidents that have raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail. 

Tom Bateman/The Canadian Press/AP
Fire burns on the horizon at the scene of a train derailment near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick on Wednesday. The oil train derailment happened late Tuesday in a sparsely populated region of New Brunswick.

A train derailment spilled crude oil and propane into a sparsely populated part of Canada late Tuesday, sparking a blaze that forced about 150 people from their homes. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.

Tuesday's train derailment is the latest in a series of oil-train accidents that have fueled a debate over how to safely transport crude oil and refined petroleum products. North American oil and gas production is rising faster than pipeline capacity, forcing bottlenecks at key energy transit points.

Companies have turned increasingly to rail to move oil from shale-rock formations in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, to markets at home and abroad.

The latest train derailment involved five cars containing crude oil and four containing propane destined for an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. The conductor and engineer were the only people on board, and neither was injured, according to Canadian National Railway spokesman Jim Feeny. Some cars caught fire and continued burning through Wednesday. 

"It is contained, but it is evolving," Claude Mongeau, the chief executive of CN Rail, said at a press conference Wednesday, adding it was too early to determine a cause.

Less than two weeks ago, an oil train carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in derailed and exploded in North Dakota. No one was injured, but a nearby town was evacuated. In July, an oil train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, caused 47 fatalities.

The overwhelming majority of oil trains arrive at their destination safely, industry groups and officials say, but the recent string of events have prompted calls for more regulation. Sen. John Hoeven (R) of North Dakota is slated to meet with Department of Transportation officials Thursday to press for updated standards on oil train cars. In Canada, the federal government has required rail companies to notify municipalities when transporting dangerous goods through their communities.

In 2012, US trains transported  234,000 carloads of crude oil, up from 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). That increased to around 400,000 carloads in 2013. 

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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