Propane leak in Saint John

Fire Chief Kevin Clifford says he's always been well-aware of Saint John's industrial status. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Saint John's fire chief says the propane leak at a rail yard on the city's east side Wednesday was a "relatively stable" incident.

The leak from a rail car shut down a stretch of Highway 1 in both directions for more than six hours and forced the evacuation of a 90-metre area around the rail yard near the One Mile interchange overpass.

Fire Chief Kevin Clifford says he understands citizens' concerns, given the recent train derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic.

But he says he's always been well-aware of Saint John's industrial status and he's no more concerned about the risks today than he was before the fatal Quebec disaster.

"Obviously there are lessons learned out of Lac-Mégantic around the integration of municipalities and industrial infrastructure and it might have heightened a whole lot of folks' awareness, but from our perspective, the only comfort I can give citizens is that we are diligent every day around our need to prepare and we are diligent around what's in our city and what comes through our city," Clifford told CBC News on Thursday.

"Everything was done in the appropriate fashion. It's just that it can be a very timely process," he said.

"It's all about safety. There are other ways to deal with it and there's much quicker ways, but it wouldn't have been the most safe way. And I'm not making light of it, but more than anything it was a major inconvenience to traffic," said Clifford.

"If we weren't positioned near the highway, it would have captured less attention."

Propane is extremely flammable and the leaking rail car was coupled to a crude oil tanker and was surrounded by several others carrying crude oil.

Officials believe the leak was caused by a faulty valve. Emergency crews ended up transferring the majority of the propane to another tanker.

Firefighters remained at the scene overnight until the last of the remaining propane in the leaking rail car was flared off. A metre-high flame could be seen some distance away.

Crews cleared the scene at 11:50 a.m. on Thursday.

The fire chief says there will be an after-incident review, likely next week.

It was NB Southern Railway crews who noticed "misting" and the smell of gas around the rail car, which had been shunted from the Irving Oil refinery to the rail yard.

They notified emergency personnel.