New Brunswick

Train derailment in Quebec may provide lessons in Saint John

As Quebec authorities continue to search for victims of the fatal train derailment in crash in Lac-Mégantic, some New Brunswickers are wondering what local lessons can learn from the tragedy.

Fire Chief Kevin Clifford considering Lac-Mégantic trip to survey damage

Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford says there may be lessons to learn from the fatal train derailment in Quebec. 2:04

Saint John's fire chief says he or some of his staff may visit Lac-Mégantic, Que. to see if there are any local lessons to be learned from the fatal train derailment over the weekend.

The 75-car crude oil tanker train was en route to the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John when it derailed and exploded early Saturday, killing at least 13 people, while another estimated 50 people are still missing.

Fire Chief Kevin Clifford, who also heads up Saint John's Emergency Measures Organization, says the city has more resources and industry expertise than was available to emergency responders in Quebec because Saint John is an end point for large volumes of hazardous products.

An estimated 2,000 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que., were evacuated following the explosion and subsequent fires. (CBC)

Still, with Saint John now receiving about one crude oil train every day, Clifford says there may be information to be gleaned from the tragedy.

"What the event over the weekend does is gives us an opportunity to send folks up there — maybe they can help, I'm not sure. But I do know they can learn," he said.

"And I think this community would expect me to try to get people up there."

Crude oil tank cars have become a fact of life for people, such as Ron Ouellette, who has lived next to the train tracks in west Saint John since 1961.

"I was never worried about an explosion," he said.

"I never even thought it could explode 'til I heard it in Quebec there."

Up until the past few years, there were only two trains a day operating on a schedule, said Ouellette.

But now, they arrive around the clock on two different rail lines — from one direction on a CN track and from the other on the NB Southern line with links to the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway.

The number of trains and amount of noise have increased exponentially, said Ouellette.

"Sometimes they'll hit so hard it will just about knock you out of your bed," he said.

"The weekends, there's two rails of cars all the way up here."

Despite the traffic and noise, however, Ouellette says he's too old to worry about explosions.