'How much longer can we dodge a bullet': Rail risk factors increasing, expert says
GUERNSEY -- The reeve of a Saskatchewan municipality where a second fiery train derailment has occurred in less than two months says it's time for the federal government to look more seriously at pipelines to move oil.
Jack Gibney of the Rural Municipality of Usborne says "oil is going to move one way or another."
"We have no choice."
A Canadian Pacific Railway freight train jumped the tracks near Guernsey, about 115 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon, early Thursday.
The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency said 32 of the train's 104 cars derailed and a dozen caught fire, sending flames and thick, black smoke into the air. Fire crews from Lanigan, Humboldt and Saskatoon helped to battle the blaze for more than 24 hours.
The fire was still burning Friday morning. The Transportation Safety Board said its investigators could not get to the wreckage as a result.
About 85 residents who were ordered to leave the agricultural community on Thursday and gathered Friday in a town hall in nearby Lanigan, where they met with CP officials. Gibney said people appreciate the rail company's efforts, but are still concerned about rail safety and the transportation of oil.
“It’s been really tough, being away from home makes it really hard for my daughter's routine because we usually eat and nap at certain times so that has been hard,” said Candice Keck, who was among the evacuees with her husband and two-year-old daughter.
"To be uprooted and tossed in a hotel and then we had to get ready in the morning go to school like it was a regular day, but it was not a regular morning,” said Guernsey resident Josh Kondraczynsk.
The evacuees were allowed to return home Friday afternoon.
Another derailment about 10 kilometres away on the same set of tracks in December also caused a fire when 1.5 million litres of oil spilled.
After the second derailment Thursday, the federal government ordered lower speed limits for all trains carrying large amounts of dangerous goods.
Trains carrying oil move through Guernsey every hour, said Gibney, who added the track is busier than it's ever been.
"We call it our Canadian pipeline here going by."
Tom Lukiwski, the member of Parliament for the area, said he believes pipelines are the safest way to transport crude oil and bitumen.
"This, I hope, will be a reminder to the government that they have to take a very hard and long look at increasing our pipeline capacity in this country."
Alberta and Saskatchewan have been pushing for pipelines as a better option than rail to move landlocked oil to market.
The Alberta government decided last fall to allow oil producers to exceed provincial quotas if they moved additional barrels by rail.
Earlier this week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the idea of a pipeline to Churchill, Man., was worth exploring. The province has formed a committee to examine ways to get more pipelines built.
The federal transport minister's office said in a statement that Marc Garneau is concerned about the safety of railway operations and has instructed the department to review all issues around the latest derailment and past accidents to see if more safety measures are required.
Bruce Campbell is an adjunct professor at York University in Toronto and author of a book about the deadly Quebec Lac-Megantic rail disaster in 2013. An explosion caused when tanker cars loaded with crude oil derailed killed 47 people.
Campbell said multiple factors contribute to derailments, including track deterioration and not adhering to speed limitations.
Risk factors are increasing as trains move faster and carry more cars, he said.
"There needs to be a safety evaluation of the weight and length. They are getting longer and heavier, putting more pressure on the tracks."
The type of train car used to transport oil is also of concern, Campbell said.
A retrofitted version of the TC-117 tank type was involved in crashes and subsequent oil leaks in the December derailment, as well as other recent accidents in St. Lazare, Man., Iowa and Texas, Campbell said. It has a thinner shell than newer models.
CP has not responded to questions about what type of rail car was involved in Thursday's derailment.
The company did say in an emailed statement that an emergency response team and contractors were working with fire officials to extinguish the blaze. It said CP would also work closely with nearby landowners to ensure the area is cleaned up and restored.
Campbell said the recent derailments didn't happen right in a community, but that may not always be the case.
"So far we've dodged a bullet," Campbell said.
"But my question is: how much longer can we dodge a bullet?"
Keck has since returned home, happy that things are settling down, but she says she is now worried about this incident occurring for the third time.
"Im disappointed that this has happened again in such a short span of time," The Guernsey resident said to CTV after getting back to her home.
"I hope that they figure out what’s wrong and that they do make changes to make it better."
CP released a statement on Friday night, announcing that the fire has been contained and residents are able to return to their homes, as well as the rail line re-opening after repairs and inspection.
CP Rail crews and TSB investigators are expected to stay on the scene in the upcoming days as they attempt to determine the cause of the crash.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2020
-- By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg
-- With files from Alessandra Carneiro