A fatal train derailment and explosion like the one that devastated Lac-Mégantic, Que., would not likely happen in Winnipeg, says a local transportation expert.
At least 13 people have died and 40 people are still missing after a runaway train carrying crude oil set off a series of explosions and flattened the town's downtown at about 1 a.m. ET Saturday.
Crude oil is transported on trains through Winnipeg on a regular basis, prompting some who live near the rail lines to wonder if a similar disaster could happen here.
"If an explosion happens, I mean, I think everybody's gone here," said Elaine Touchette, who runs a home-based daycare near Wilkes Avenue, with rail tracks running behind the home.
But Barry Prentice, a professor with the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, says what happened in Quebec is very unlikely to happen on Winnipeg's rail lines.
"The speeds are very controlled, it's a major main line under tremendous supervision, and this was a very rare and unusual circumstance for a runaway train," he said Monday.
"So the chances of something like that happening in Winnipeg — notwithstanding the fact we have no hills — is very, very small."
In Saturday's derailment, the train had been parked uphill of Lac-Mégantic before it somehow became loose and careened into the small community.
About 2,000 residents were forced to leave their homes. About 1,500 of them may be able to return to the community on Tuesday, according to local officials.
"Materialistic things … can be replaced, but your family and your kids and your pets can't, so that's a little nerve-wracking to hear that that many people died in such a small town and so many people are missing," said Jessica McCormick, Touchette's daughter-in-law.
The incident, which remains under investigation, has shone the spotlight on the political debate over oil transportation and Canada's rapidly expanding oil-by-rail industry, which has seen a stunning 28,000-per-cent increase over the past five years.
"This is really a function of pipelines that are not being built or oil being discovered in places without pipelines," Prentice said.
"We have this large oil reserve in the Bakken field in North Dakota and southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba where there's no pipeline serving that area. So in order to extract the oil — which happens very fast because of the fracking industry — to get to market, they use the rail lines, and it works out very economically for them."
Prentice said it may be time for government to consider re-routing rail lines outside of towns in cities.