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CN Train Carrying Crude Derails in Alberta, Sparking Fire

A Canadian National Railway Co. train carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas derailed west of Edmonton early today, causing an explosion and fire.

One car containing LPG, or propane, exploded and set two other cars leaking the flammable substance on fire, said Carson Mills, a spokesman for Parkland County, in a telephone interview. Thirteen cars derailed, he said.

Rail transport of crude is under heightened regulatory scrutiny in Canada and the U.S. after a train carrying oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July, killing 47. Companies face new rules that may raise costs, including a Canadian directive that requires testing and labeling of crude in rail cars.

Emergency responders evacuated 49 residents of the rural community of Gainford and the county declared a state of emergency for the area, after officials were notified of the derailment at about 1 a.m. local time, said Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec in a telephone interview.

“Given the tragic incident at Lac-Megantic earlier, it certainly demonstrates the urgent need to review rail safety,” Shaigec said, noting the “imminent threat” that more explosions may occur at the site of the CN Rail derailment. “We’re very fortunate that this did occur in a sparsely populated area.”

The train derailed about 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of Edmonton.

Headed West

Firefighters are letting the leaking propane burn off to avoid the risk of a future fire, Shaigec said. Helicopters provided by the Alberta government’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development department worked to extinguish a grass fire that spread from the blaze, he said.

The public was kept from the site by the closing of a stretch of highway near the rail line, Shaigec said. He spoke today with numerous politicians from across the country, including Canada’s Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who offered federal government support, he said. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers are on site.

The train was traveling westbound and carrying mixed freight in 134 cars, Warren Chandler, a CN Rail spokesman, said in a telephone interview. He couldn’t immediately identify the starting point and destination of the train and the customer for whom the railroad was transporting the fuels.

CN Rail had responders on site and there were no injuries, he said.

“This kind of disaster will become the new normal unless the federal government takes much more effective measures to improve oil transportation safety,” Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, said in an e-mailed statement, calling the incident Alberta’s third “major” derailment in recent months.

The three cars that caught fire are the only ones that leaked, Chandler said. Among the derailed cars, nine contained LPG, a light hydrocarbon, and four contained oil.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the site, Chris Krepski, a spokesman for the agency, said in a telephone interview.

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