Investigators unsure how long train fire will last

A CN worker looks on while working on the railway in Plaster Rock, N.B., on January 8, 2014....

A CN worker looks on while working on the railway in Plaster Rock, N.B., on January 8, 2014. (REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger)

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:30 PM ET

The fire continues to burn at the site where a CN train carrying crude oil and propane derailed near the village of Plaster Rock, N.B.

Despite the fire, the situation is considered to be stable, the province's Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) said in a release.

Guy Laporte of the Transport Safety Board said Thursday four investigators are on site to determine the factors that led to the train's derailment Tuesday evening.

"It is too early to say what the cause is and the contributing factors" might be, Laporte said, although he did note there was a cracked wheel — not a broken axle as previously thought — on a car closer to the front of the train.

Laporte, the senior investigator, said he has been unable to verify reports there was a fault with the train's brake line.

He said he was supposed to attend a meeting on the site Thursday morning, but was turned back because the fire was still burning.

Laporte said did not know how long the fire would last, or how many cars were affected.

On Thursday morning, residents who have been removed from their homes were permitted to return briefly. Those who live within 2 km of the derailment were escorted to their homes by volunteer firefighters. They will be allowed to go back again Thursday night between 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

As a precaution, residents in the evacuation zone were also told not to drink tap water from private wells until the water quality could be tested.

The CN train derailed Tuesday at around 7 p.m. Five of the derailed cars were carrying crude oil, while four had propane. Some of the 17 derailed cars caught fire.

The oil, from Western Canada, was destined for the Irving refinery in Saint John.

No one was injured.

The Transportation Safety Board said the derailment may have been caused by a broken axle near the front of the train, causing an "undesired brake application," which forced a sudden stop. Cars closer to the rear also jumped the track, and investigators say that's where the fire is coming from.

Most of the 150 displaced residents of Plaster Rock, about 200 km north of Fredericton, were able to take shelter with friends and family, provincial officials said.

CN CEO Claude Mongeau said Wednesday it was still too early to say when residents would be allowed back home, but said the company would compensate nearby residents and would help with cleanup.

In the past year, there have been five major crashes involving trains carrying crude oil.

In December, a 106-car BNSF freight train went off the tracks in North Dakota. There were no injuries, but the crash caused explosions and hazardous plumes of smoke.

Last July, 47 people died when a runaway train derailed and exploded in the heart of Lac Megantic, Que.


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