|Recent derailments are media nightmare for CN|
|August 9, 2005
Two recent derailments have triggered public anger, particularly in the Village of Wabamun, Alberta, where on August 3rd, 43-rail cars
jumped the track on CN's mainline approximately 65 kilometres west of Edmonton. Both area residents and cottagers who own lake-
cottages on Lake Wabamun and in the immediate area complained that not enough attention was being made to cleaning and
containing the damage to the lake itself.
Many complained to the media that CN's first concern was simply reopening their rail line, and not on the environmental damages.
People were visibly upset with the site of lake birds coated with thick oil, a reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez disaster back in 1989.
The public was also upset with the lack of preparedness of both CN and government environmental bodies in responding to the disaster
Twenty-six of the cars that derailed were tank cars that spilled massive amounts of slick bunker fuel oil, which is heavy oil used in
asphalt production and to power ships and barges, both on land and into Lake Wabamun.
The accident captured major media attention when residents expressed dismay that CN gave more priority in repairing their tracks to
reopen the rail line, but did nothing to contain or start cleaning up the massive toxic spill.
CN promised to meet with residents and cottagers, but failed to show up for the meeting. This spurred a public outrage and protest from
cottagers and area residents.
Some one-hundred people blocked CN’s mainline, demanding the company meet with them and show respect to the public’s interests
and commit to a faster cleanup of the now polluted lake and cottage areas.
"Come down to the beach and see the carnage," said Don Goss, a cottage owner when speaking to the media. "Watch my kids pick up
dead birds and trying to scrub off the birds and there's nobody helping us."
Many cottagers have pitched in attempting to clean and save the hundreds of birds that are coated with the toxic oil, most of which are
dying. They spent much of their weekend volunteering alongside wild life officers to help clean the various birds, which takes several
days to do as the birds are in tremendous shock. Several residents have been donating towels and soap.
A faulty section of rail that had not received a thorough inspection in nearly three months is believed to have caused the August 3rd
In addressing the public and media, CN has been caught with distorting statements.
On Thursday (August 4th), CN spokesman Jim Feeny told a press conference the track had last received a visual inspection on Tuesday,
the day before the accident. But Ed Harris, CN’s Executive Vice President who is based in Edmonton, admitted Saturday (August 6th)
during a midday town hall meeting in the Village of Wabamun with about 60-local residents, that the last time the section of track was
thoroughly inspected to detect variances in track gauge was on May 8th and 9th of this year.
"During the meeting, CN was struggling to answer any of the questions," explained Provincial Liberal and Opposition leader Kevin Taft.
"A company as big as CN, with as big a presence as they have in this area should be a lot stronger in organizing a response than what
we have seen."
People have been advised not to fish, swim or boat in Lake Wabamun, which is a favourite summer and family vacation destination. In
addition to the obvious health concerns of cottagers and residents in the immediate area, TransAlta Corp, who supplies power to many
Central and Northern Alberta residents, confirmed that one of its three power plants that draw cool water from Lake Wabamun has been
TransAlta's Wabamun plant, located at the north end of the lake in the village of Wabamun, has been closed since noon Wednesday due
to fears that the massive oil slick would foul its cooling system. The effect of the shutdown on consumers will be minimal, says
TransAlta, because the older plant plays only a minor role within the provincial power grid. TransAlta's newer Sundance power plant,
which is also located on the lake, is still running.
Clean up continues.
Click on the links below to read some of the local media comments concerning CN’s response to this derailment.
August 5th article - Edmonton Sun August 7th article - Edmonton Sun
Squamish, B.C. derailment
Another CN train derailed in Western Canada, just three days after the Lake Wabamun accident on Friday, August 5th. This one occurred
30-kilometres north of Squamish, B.C., where 9-cars from a 144-car train destined to Prince George from Vancouver, plunged into the
Cheakamus River at approximately 7:30 a.m. PDT.
Most cars were empty lumber cars, but one was a tanker carrying caustic soda or sodium hydroxide, a corrosive material used for
manufacturing at pulp mills. The substance, commonly known as lye, spiked the river's pH levels.
"The devastation makes you sick to your stomach," explained Carl Halverson when speaking to the media. He was among the first on
the scene. "The river turned into a khaki colour and mature fish started to float past. Their gills were so badly damaged that they were
unable to breath. It killed every species across the spectrum from Coho, steelhead to lamprey eels," Halverson said.
Thousands of dead fish have been washing up on the shores of the Cheakamus River, after 41,000 litres of a toxic chemical spilled into
the water from the derailed CN train.
"I have seen every species that lives in the river dead,” said Brian Klassen, a Squamish resident. “I just walked past a pile of more than
1,000 severely acid-burned fish. We are picking up a lot of dead fish along the river banks and it looks like they were actually trying to get
out of the water."
The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority issued a warning that no one should drink, swim, or eat any fish or wildlife near the river. People
drawing their drinking water from wells within 100 metres of the river are also being advised to find other sources. It is a warning many
residents say came too late, as more than 10-hours had passed before the warning was issued.
Thankfully, as was the case in the Wabamun, Alberta derailment, there were no injuries to the train crew in the Squamish incident.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of yet another CN accident that occurred in the United States, where two CN trains collided head-
on July 10th, northeast of Bentonia in west-central Mississippi.
One train crew member was found dead at the scene, while the other three were left missing but later found. All four crew members
died. The collision is still being investigated by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
In a July 26, 2005 report which concerned a 2004 Amtrak passenger train derailment, the NTSB blamed CN for the mishap for failing to
properly maintain its track.
Amtrak's City of New Orleans, carrying 61 passengers and a crew of 12, was traveling northbound at about 78 mph on April 6, 2004,
when it derailed off a trestle in a remote area near Flora, Mississippi. One woman from Chicago was killed in the accident, and dozens
more were left injured.