All that we know about the Second crude-by-rail derailment within 2 months at Guernsey

10,000 barrels spilled, much of it burned or ended up in the frozen ditch

Geurnsey, Regina, Calgary, Ottawa – A second crude-by-rail derailment on the Canadian Pacific Railway near Guernsey, Saskatchewan on Feb. 6 served as a wake-up call at a time when the rail infrastructure of Canada has been headline news for weeks.

The Feb. 6 spill occurred on one of Canadian Pacific’s mainline track, and was approximately 10 kilometres east of a similar incident on Dec. 9, 2019. The second incident occurred just east of Guernsey, requiring the temporary evacuation of the community.

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The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) reported on its webpage that on Feb. 6, 2020, “A Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) crude oil unit train was proceeding eastward at about 42 mph on the CP Sutherland Subdivision. The train originated at Rosyth, Alberta, and was destined for Stroud, Oklahoma, USA.”

That was the same origin and destination as the train in the December incident. These are, roughly speaking, close to the origin and terminus of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The TSB continued, “At 6:15 a.m. Central Standard Time, the train experienced a train-initiated emergency brake application at Mile 43.4, about 1 1/2 miles west of Guernsey, Saskatchewan. Subsequent examination identified that 32 tank cars (Lines 32 – 63 inclusive) had derailed. Several tank cars were breached and an undetermined amount of petroleum crude oil product was released. The product ignited and a pool fire ensued involving a number of tank cars. There were no injuries reported. As a precaution, the Reeve of the town of Guernsey required the evacuation of about 85 people. The temperature at the time of the accident was about −18°C.”

(Railways work in Imperial measurement)

The TSB said, “The train crew was composed of a locomotive engineer and a conductor. The train consisted of 2 distributed-power locomotives (1 on the head-end and 1 on the tail-end), a covered hopper car loaded with sand located in position 2, followed by 104 tank cars loaded with petroleum crude oil (UN1267, Class 3 PG I) and another covered hopper loaded with sand located the 107th position (108 rolling stock in total). The train weighed 14896 tons and was 6,445 feet long.” (13,513 tonnes; 1,964 metres long)

“Buffer cars” are used as a safety measure on crude-by-rail trains, which is why there were hopper cars filled with sand as part of the train.

The TSB continued, “The derailed tank cars were all DOT 117J100-W tank cars. The tank cars located from line 32 to 63 (32 cars) derailed. One derailed tank car that remained upright was otherwise unaffected and was subsequently re-railed. Of the remaining 31 derailed cars, about 19 derailed cars were involved in a pool fire from released product west of the crossing, while an estimated 12 cars derailed east of the crossing but were not directly involved in the fire.

“To date, there have been no mechanical defects observed that could be considered causal. A review of the locomotive event recorder download determined that the train was handled in accordance with regulatory and company requirements.

“The type of petroleum crude oil involved in this occurrence had properties consistent with petroleum crude oil that the TSB has evaluated in previous investigations involving crude oil.”


The investigation is currently in the field phase. Three TSB investigators are working alongside investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the tank car manufacturer (Trinity) to gather information from the occurrence site.

Each tank car must be cleaned, purged, and staged prior to inspection. As of 12 February 2020, about 17 of the derailed cars had been examined, with several cars exhibiting breaches.

The product appeared to be primarily contained in a large ditch between the rail line and Highway 16 to the north of the rail line. It does not appear that any waterways were affected.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment reported on Feb. 19 that approximately 10,064 barrels of oil were spilled and Canadian Pacific estimates that approximately 7,548 barrels have been recovered to date. The estimate for the volume spilled increased from initial estimates, because more oil spilled over the course of the emergency. Crews were unable to stop leaks until the fires were extinguished, the ministry said in an emailed statement on Feb. 20.

Rail tank cars typically max out at a capacity of approximately 720 barrels, although some can be closer to 600.Calgary-based Canadian Pacific said in an emailed statement on Feb. 20, “Crews continue to work on-site to ensure all equipment is removed and the area fully restored.

“CP will work with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment on an environmental remedial action plan. The incident remains under investigation.”

The Ministry of Environment said it will continue to monitor clean-up efforts to ensure all impacts are addressed. The ministry will also maintain regulatory oversight during the ongoing environmental assessment and remediation efforts until all environmental risks are addressed.

The Ministry noted CP has contracted qualified environmental consultants and contractors to fully assess any environmental impacts to the site, and to develop and implement appropriate remediation plans, including recovering all spilled oil, assessing the soil and water for potential impacts, and managing the risk associated with the contamination. As the responsible party, CP is responsible for all costs associated with the derailment, including the emergency response, environmental assessment and all required remediation.

A drilling program was completed at the derailment site to delineate soil impacts and assess whether local groundwater was affected.  Results of the assessment are pending, the Ministry said. The next steps include the development of a site remediation plan to address all environmental impacts resulting from the derailment. Remediation and management of the derailment site is expected to take several months to complete. Fortunately, the February and December spills were fully contained to the railway and highway ditches, and impacted relatively small areas.  The frozen ground likely helped reduce the impacts to soil and water. 

Deeper look at the cars

The TSB noted, “There is significant industry interest in documenting the performance of the DOT 117J100-W tank cars (containment integrity and fire resistance).  Detailed site examination of all of the derailed tank cars will continue, in challenging conditions, until completed.”

This car was adopted as an improved, and believed safer, tank car compared to the DOT-111 cars which ruptured and burned in the Lac-Mégantic disaster of July 6, 2013.

The specifications for DOT-117 cars include a minimum plate thickness of 9/16 inch, full-height head shields at least ½ inch thick, a thermal protection system, top fitting protection and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes. Canada’s TC-117 specification is equivalent to the U.S. DOT-117.

The TSB said once site work is complete, all available information will be reviewed in order to make a more accurate assessment of the tank car damage sustained and the amount of product released. This work will take some time, it noted. Any tank car and track components of interest that are recovered from the site will be sent to the TSB Engineering Laboratory in Ottawa for detailed analysis.

Slowdown ordered, then relieved somewhat

Canadian Pacific noted on Feb. 6 “Immediately after the derailment, CP implemented a slow order on its crude trains as a precautionary measure as it gathers facts related to this incident. Since then, Transport Canada has issued a Ministerial Order, effective for thirty days at midnight on Friday, Feb. 7. The order requires a slowdown of “key trains (which contain 20 or more cars carrying dangerous goods). In metropolitan areas, these trains will be limited to 20 mph. Outside these areas, trains will be limited to 25 mph.”

The railway said it fully supported and implemented the reduction in speed.

On Feb. 16, Transport Canada amended the ministerial order from Minister of Transport Marc Garneau. The amendment relieved the speed reduction somewhat. A news release from Transport Canada stated, “The speed limit for key trains is now limited to 35 mph in metropolitan areas. Outside of metropolitan areas where there are no track signals, the speed is limited to 40 mph.

“Higher risk key trains are unit trains where tank cars are loaded with a single dangerous goods commodity moving to the same point of destination; or trains that include any combination of 80 or more tank cars containing dangerous goods.

“The speed limit for higher risk key trains is now limited to 25 mph where there are no track signals. For metropolitan areas, the speed limit is 30 mph unless the metropolitan area is in a non-signal territory where the speed limit will be maintain at a maximum 25 mph.

The new Ministerial Order will enter into effect immediately and will remain in place until April 1, 2020.

The Dec. 9 derailment had no injuries but spilled approximately 9,435 bbl. oil, The train was traveling eastbound at 45 miles per hour.


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