The fiery derailment this weekend of a train transporting crude through Ontario should spark immediate action to address the risks to people and ecosystems the booming oil-by-rail industry poses, an environmental group says.
The incident, which occurred late Saturday night roughly 50 miles south of the city of Timmins, is the latest in a series of such accidents.
The 100-car CN Rail freight train was heading eastward from Alberta when 29 of its cars derailed, with seven of them catching fire in what a company spokesperson described as “a snow-covered, remote wooded area.” No one was reported injured in the accident.
“An unknown amount of oil spilled into the snow at the site of the derailment,” Reuters reported; the company stated that the oil was contained “on the frozen, snow covered surface.”
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada announced Sunday that it was sending investigators to the scene, and on Monday, the fire was still burning, the Canadian Press reported.
“It’s disturbing to see yet another oil train go off the tracks with disastrous consequences,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the environmental advocacy organization Center for Biological Diversity, in a press statement.
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Matteson said the accident underscored the widespread danger inherent in such transportation.
“It’s clearly time to take action on the growing use of the oil trains that are putting people, wildlife and the environment at serious risk. What happened in Ontario could happen anywhere along the thousands of miles of tracks that oil trains use every day in the United States,” she stated.
“Time and again we’ve seen these oil trails catch fire, spill oil, take lives and leave behind huge messes,” she added. “It’s got to stop. This latest incident in Ontario needs to spur swifter action to address the growing danger of a massive increase of oil transport on our railways,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this month sent the White House its proposal for improving its standards on oil carrying rains, including upgrades to the common DOT-111 tank cars, which has been linked to previous incidents including the explosive and deadly Lac-Mégantic derailment in 2013.
But a real step forward, stated Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center, goes beyond improving standards for transporting fossil fuels.
“Ultimately,” he said last month, “if we’re going to avoid dangerous oil-train derailments, as well as avoid the climate catastrophe that is currently being caused by our emissions, we must move away from these dangerous fossil fuels.”
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