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Safety concerns remain over train derailment west of Edmonton

Watch: Gainford train derailment press conference

Edmonton – A second controlled burn at the train derailment site in Gainford, Alberta took place Monday evening.

“The vent and burn process involves placing small explosive charges on the hulls of the derailed propane tank cars. When the charges are systematically detonated, they punch small holes in the pressurized car shells. Gas vapour will ignite as it exits the cars, allowing the propane to burn off in a controlled manner,” Parkland County officials said.

The second vent and burn came after the first one, conducted Sunday evening, didn’t work as well as originally expected.

Officials say they were able to access the site at 7:15 MT Monday and confirmed that one car still contains propane.

CN says it will conduct a third controlled burn around 9:00 p.m. Monday to try to complete the process.

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On Sunday evening, CN Rail implemented the second controlled burn of the propane remaining in the six derailed cars at the accident site in Gainford, AB. CN hoped the exercise would burn the excess propane off, so the cars could be removed, allowing displaced residents to return to their homes.

A site analysis was performed around 11:00 p.m. Sunday.

“We found that not all the cars had vented their propane. In the interest of safety, we withdrew,” explained CN Rail spokesperson Warren Chandler. “Controlled burn is a multi-step process, and after the controlled burn last night, we have left the cars to vent overnight and are now accessing the next steps.”

Emergency personnel remain at the scene to determine how best to proceed.

“I can’t speculate what those options are going to be. The right officials, the right emergency responders are on site with the CN experts. They’re going to analyse the site and then they’ll determine on the step-by-step approach what the safest and best way is to get these residents back home as quickly as possible,” Chandler explained.

Watch: Controlled burn being conducted at Gainford derailment site

Residents in the hamlet- located about 80 kilometres west of Edmonton- were forced from their homes early Saturday morning after 13 cars on a CN freight train carrying a cargo of oil and liquefied petroleum gas derailed and burst into flames.

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On Monday morning, Parkland County remained in a state-of-local-emergency and the mandatory evacuation order remained in effect. About 126 residents have checked-in at the evacuation site.

“It is critical that residents follow this mandatory evacuation as our emergency services personnel need to focus their efforts on dealing with the incident itself and resolving the situation,” said Jackie Ostashek with Parkland County.

Officials are not sure how long it will take before residents will be allowed to return home.

“We understand being displaced from home can be very frustrating. Our staff are working diligently to assist them in addressing their needs until we are able to return them home,” said Ostashek.

“At this point, our fire chief is not confident to lift the evacuation order until we have full confidence that all threats have been removed. We are still trying to evaluate those threats. But in the interest of public safety, until everything is contained and removed, we are not prepared to lift the evacuation order.”

CN Rail says the track was last inspected Thursday and no problems were found. The train, which was travelling to Vancouver from Edmonton, was also inspected before it left Friday night.

Despite this incident, and two others over the past month, CN continues to defend its safety record.

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“CN’s safety record has been very solid, in terms of its main track derailments last year, they were the lowest on record,” said company spokesman Mark Hallman.

“The vast majority of commodities, such as dangerous commodities, that are transported from origin to destination, more than 99 per cent reach destination without any accidental release.”

Gainford residents are encouraged to contact the Parkland County information line at (780) 968-8400.

If the situation changes, evacuated residents who have registered with the Reception Centre at Entwistle Community Hall will be contacted.

Highway 16 continues to be closed at Range Road 50 with traffic being rerouted north along highway 765, westbound on highway 633, and returning southbound on highway 757. This road closure will continue until further notice.

Approximate map of Highway closure:

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The following pictures were provided by Parkland County:

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