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Efforts continue Sunday to put out fire from derailed train hauling crude oil in northern Ontario

March 8, 2015   by Adam Miller - The Canadian Press (with files from The Canadian Press)

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GOGAMA, Ont. – Crews are continuing their efforts today to put out a fire caused when a CN Rail train hauling crude oil derailed in northern Ontario. Ontario Provincial Police say the derailment occurred at about 2:45 a.m. on Saturday about four kilometres southwest of Gogama, Ont., which is about 80 km south of Timmins. 

CN spokesman Jim Feeny says residents will likely see smoke rising from the derailment site  He says this poses no threat to people or the environment, adding CN will continue to monitor air quality in the area.

This is the third CN derailment in northern Ontario is less than a month, and the second in the same area. Feeny says CN has also started building a 460-metre-long track around the derailment site to help with fire suppression and cleanup. It will also allow CN to restore rail service on the line once those tasks are done.

The derailment involved 35 train cars – some of which caught fire and entered the Mattagami River System.

OPP Const. Gillian Coughlin says officers are at the scene to ensure public safety and the Gogama Fire Department was called to assist in containing the blaze.

CN Rail says a train carrying crude oil derailed early Saturday, March 7, 2015 near Gogama, Ont., about 200 kilometres north of Sudbury, and there is a fire at the site. It's the third CN derailment in northern Ontario is less than a month, and the second in the same area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-OPP

Roxanne Veronneau, owner of the Gogama Village Inn, said the fire quickly spread throughout the river and destroyed an exit bridge out of town.

”We have two exits in Gogama to get in and out of town and the bridge apparently is burned down,” Veronneau said. ”So now we have one other exit, which is relatively close to where all of this is going on.”

This is the third CN derailment in northern Ontario is less than a month, and the second in the same area.

A CN freight train derailed on Thursday 100 kilometres east of Hornepayne, Ont., but there was no leakage from the 16 residue tank cars that contained crude oil or gasoline.

On Feb. 14, a derailment occurred in the same area south of Timmins, when 29 cars loaded with crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed and caused a fire.

Veronneau says the town is filled with safety crews working to clean up the damage and that large plumes of smoke can still be seen nearby.

”The good part about that is that the cleanup crew, they had all of the equipment over at the first derailment which made it quicker to get their hands on the equipment and bring it over to our site,” Veronneau said, adding that people are concerned about what could have happened.

”People are kind of sitting on edge right now… they’re not impressed because it could have happened right here. Look in Quebec what happened to them and how many lives were lost.

”My inn is about 200 feet from the train tracks and it’s a major concern for the people in town … If it had happened in the middle of town we wouldn’t be having a conversation right now because we would have gotten taken out. It would have been horrible being this close and the track runs right through the middle of Gogama.”

Coughlin says the cause of the derailment is still under investigation and the Ministry of Environment has been notified, but that residents of the nearby Mattagami First Nation are being advised not to consume water from the community source at this time.

CN Rail tweeted later Saturday that there are no indications drinking water was affected and air monitoring systems have detected no issues.

Via Rail says passenger service is being cancelled between Winnipeg and Toronto.

A train that left Vancouver on Friday night will terminate in Winnipeg on Sunday night, and Via says it will look at providing alternate transporation for passengers.

A train scheduled to leave Toronto for Vancouver on Saturday night has been cancelled and passengers will be responsible for making alternate travel arrangements.

The diversion will also allow CN to restore rail service on the line once major fire suppression activities completed & it is safe to do so

— CN Communications (@CN_Comm) March 8, 2015

OPP say local highways have been closed in the area, including Highway 144 in both directions.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has sent investigators to the site, which they say is about 37 kilometres from the location of last month’s derailment.

CN says the cars met the newer, improved CPC-1232 standard, which have enhancements such as half-head shields, improved top and bottom fitting protection, and normalized steel.

The TSB said last month the Class 111 tank cars involved in the Feb. 14 derailment also met the upgraded standards for new tank cars carrying crude and other flammable liquids.

But it says the cars still ”performed similarly” to those involved in the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., two years ago, which predated the changes.

The agency says last month’s incident ”demonstrates the inadequacy” of the new standards and is urging Transport Canada to quickly introduce enhanced protection standards to reduce the risk of spills when these tanks are involved in accidents.