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News release

Update on derailment and fire of Canadian National crude oil train near Gogama, Ontario

The occurrence

On 14 February 2015, a Canadian National (CN) crude oil unit train was proceeding eastward on CN's Ruel Subdivision near Gogama, Ontario. The train crew was composed of a locomotive engineer and a conductor. The train was equipped with 2 head-end locomotives hauling 100 Class 111 tank cars, 68 loaded with Petroleum Crude Oil (UN 1267) and 32 loaded with Petroleum Distillates (UN 1268). The train was 6089 feet long and weighed 14 355 tons.

At about 23:50, while travelling at 38 mph, the train crew felt a heavy tug on the train and a train-initiated emergency brake application occurred near Mile 111.6. Subsequently, the crew observed a fire about 10 cars behind the locomotives, so they detached the locomotives from the train. The temperature at the time was -31°C and a slow order (speed restriction) of 40 mph was in place.

The train was designated as a “Key Train”Footnote 1 operating on a “Key Route”.Footnote 2 The accident occurred in a remote area, and the CN Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) was implemented. There were no injuries reported, and no evacuation was required. The product in several cars was allowed to burn. All fires were extinguished by 20 February 2015.

What we know

Site examination determined that the 7th to the 35th cars behind the locomotives (29 cars in total) had derailed. During the derailment, a number of cars were breached, released product, and ignited a large fire that initially involved 7 of the derailed cars. Additional product was subsequently released, and a total of 21 cars sustained fire damage ranging from minor to severe. About 900 feet of track was destroyed.

While firefighters dealt with the fire, investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) were able to examine the site and recover a section of broken rail containing a rail joint and a broken wheel, that are of interest. All recovered rail components and the broken wheel were sent to the TSB Engineering Laboratory in Ottawa for further analysis.

Tank cars

The TSB conducted a preliminary damage assessment of all derailed tank cars. All of the Class 111 tank cars were constructed in the last 3 years, and were compliant with the industry’s CPC-1232 standard. In comparison with the other general service “legacy” Class 111 tank cars, these cars have some enhancements which include half-head shields, improved top and bottom fitting protection, and normalized steel.

The preliminary assessment revealed that 2 tank cars at the head-end of the derailment sustained minor damage and 2 tank cars at the tail-end of the derailment had no damage. The remaining 25 derailed tank cars sustained more significant damage. At least 19 of the 25 tank cars were breached or partially breached and released various amounts of product. It is estimated that a total of over 1 million litres of product was released, either to the atmosphere or to the ground. The amount of product released will be determined more precisely as site mitigation and clean-up continue.

The accident occurred at 38 mph. Initial impressions are that the Class 111 tank cars, which were compliant with the CPC-1232 standard, performed similarly to those involved in the Lac-Mégantic accident which occurred at 65 mph.

Transportation of flammable liquids by rail

The transportation of flammable liquids by rail has been identified as one of the key risks to the transportation system and it is included on the TSB’s 2014 Watchlist. The TSB has been pointing out the vulnerability of Class 111 tank cars for years, and the Board has called for tougher standards for all Class 111 tank cars, not just new ones, to reduce the likelihood of product release during accidents. In Lac-Mégantic, investigators found that even at lower speeds, the unprotected Class 111 tank cars ruptured, releasing crude oil which fuelled the fire. Consequently, until a more robust tank car standard with enhanced protection is implemented for North America, the risk will remain.

In response to the TSB’s recommendation, Transport Canada (TC) formalized the CPC-1232 standard in January 2014 as a requirement for all new tank cars built for the transportation of flammable liquids. The TSB has warned TC that this standard was not sufficient and that more needed to be done to provide an adequate level of protection. Preliminary assessment of the CPC-1232-compliant tank cars involved in this occurrence demonstrates the inadequacy of this standard given the tank cars’ similar performance to the legacy Class 111 tanks cars involved in the Lac-Mégantic accident.

“The TSB has been calling for tougher standards for Class 111 tank cars for several years,” said Jean L. Laporte, TSB’s Chief Operating Officer.“ Here is yet another example of tank cars being breached, and we once again urge Transport Canada to expedite the introduction of enhanced protection standards to reduce the risk of product loss when these cars are involved in accidents.”

Next steps

The investigation is ongoing and the next steps include the following:

Once all remaining product has been removed from the tank cars and they have been cleaned and purged, the TSB will complete a detailed damage assessment of the cars. The object of the assessment is to compare the performance of these tank cars against the known performance of the legacy Class 111 tank cars that were involved in the Lac-Mégantic accident. This may also include further failure analysis, testing and metallurgical examination at the TSB Engineering Laboratory.

Communication of safety deficiencies

Should the investigation team uncover safety deficiencies that present an immediate risk, the Board will communicate them without delay so they may be addressed quickly and the rail system made safer.

The information posted is factual in nature and does not contain any analysis. Analysis of the accident and the Findings of the Board will be part of the final report. The investigation is ongoing.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Media Relations
Telephone: 819-360-4376