Canadian officials prepared aerial surveillance of a derailed freight train carrying crude oil and propane Wednesday morning to see if it was still burning, while dozens of nearby residents remained evacuated from their homes. There were no reports of deaths.
The derailment late Tuesday in a sparsely populated region of New Brunswick again raised concerns about the increasing use of rail to transport oil throughout North America.
“The biggest concern is the propane cars,” the fire chief of the nearby community of Plaster Rock, Tim Corbin, said Wednesday morning. “That’s our biggest concern because if they happen to explode, we’re looking at major damage.”
Canadian National Railway spokesman Jim Feeny said crews will use a helicopter early Wednesday to determine the source and extent of the fire.
Feeny said it appears that 15 cars and one locomotive derailed, but he said it was not yet clear what caused it. The train consisted of 122 cars and four locomotives. The conductor and engineer have provided statements, but Feeny would not give details.
Sharon DeWitt, emergency measures coordinator for Plaster Rock, said it was unclear whether anyone was hurt. An evacuation of about 50 to 60 people within a two—kilometer (1.24—mile) radius of the fire remained in effect.
A spokeswoman for Ambulance New Brunswick said no casualties were transported from the site.
Feeny said the regularly scheduled freight train was headed to Moncton from Central Canada when it ran into trouble around 7 p.m. about 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Fredericton in northwest New Brunswick.
The train’s engineer and conductor, the only people on the train, were not hurt, he said.
DeWitt said the train left the tracks about five kilometers (3 miles) from the village in a wooded area. She said there is one road near the site, which includes a number of homes.
In July, 47 people were killed in Lac—Megantic, Quebec, when a train carrying crude oil derailed. On Dec. 30, an oil train derailed and exploded in North Dakota, causing the evacuation of a nearby town but no injuries.
In 2011, around 68,000 carloads of fuel oils and crude petroleum moved along Canadian rail lines, according to Statistics Canada. In 2012, that rose to nearly 113,000. Between January and September of 2013 the most recent data available some 118,000 carloads had been shipped via rail.
In November, the federal government required rail companies to tell municipalities when they transport dangerous goods through their communities, after provinces and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities demanded more transparency.