Gogama train derailment: safety of shipping oil by rail questioned

A crude oil spill near Gogama is again raising questions about the safety of shipping oil by rail.

Reducing our dependence on oil means we won't have to ship as much, university professor says

CN says 29 cars carrying crude oil from Alberta jumped the tracks late Saturday. (Dillon Daveikis)

A crude oil spill near Gogama is again raising questions about the safety of shipping oil by rail.

A CN train hauling 100 cars derailed late Saturday, causing 29 cars to jump the track and seven to catch fire.

The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

An associate professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury said incidents like this are becoming more common as oil is increasingly shipped by rail.

“You know, we had a spill in Richmond Hill not that long ago, another one in Mississauga,” Charles Ramcharan said.

“So it's happening even in areas that are heavily populated. It's only a matter of time before we have a disaster.”

CN said the rail spill is contained on a frozen, snow covered surface, but it's not yet clear what kind of crude oil was spilled. The train was carrying fuel from Alberta.

'In the back of their minds'

The secretary of the local services board in Gogama said he can't help but wonder what might have happened if the train had derailed closer to home.

The rail line runs right through town, Gerry Talbot said.

"I think everybody's got it in the back of their minds and you sort of try to block it out. We know that the possibility is always there because we did have a derailment right in town back in the '60's. So we know that it's there and that it could happen to us.”

And, he continued, “We're a lot more conscious of it now, especially since what happened in Quebec [Lac Megantic]."

Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravel raised the issue in the House of Commons on Monday. He said it's a good thing the frigid weather is keeping the oil from running.

“If this would've happened in July, it would've been, probably, a total disaster."

Reduce dependence on oil

With the amount of oil shipped by rail increasing, Ramcharan is convinced that another disaster is possible. The only solution is to reduce our dependence on oil, he said.

“This sort of thing is going to keep happening with increasing frequency, as long as we continue our reliance on these fuels."

Talbot said the residents in his community are “a lot more conscious of what could happen."

"I think it's made us more ready. I think there's more of a good knowledge that it could happen so there's less hesitancy from the residents [to escape or take a derailment seriously]."

A spokesperson with CN’s public affairs department sais CN’s environmental team continues to work closely with the Ontario Ministry of Environment in the remote, densely wooded area.

Clean up crews are also working with Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board “to extinguish the fire, remove all the rail cars, repair the track, conduct a full investigation into the incident and move forward with a comprehensive environmental clean-up.”

The Transportation Safety Board said crews are working to reopen the rail line.

"I would expect that once the site is safe and the fire is under control that they will move ahead with trying to get that line open," Rob Johnston, a spokesperson with the TSB said.

A spokesperson with the Ministry of the Environment says they have requested CN keep nearby First Nations updated. Health Canada and Environment Canada are have been informed as well, Kate Jordan said in an email. 

Ministry staff are attending the command post set up by CN and will be meeting with company response teams for further updates.

"Nearby waterways in the area are frozen over, but we will ensure there are no concerns for environmental impacts off site of the derailment," she said.


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