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Derailment too close for comfort: Brockville narrowly dodges disaster

This morning reports came out that overnight a CN freight train had derailed just outside of Brockville around 4:45 a.m..  CN spokesperson stated that, “26 derailed train cars, two were fully-loaded automobile carriers, five contained carbon powder — used in a “variety of water filtration systems” — and 13 were unloaded fuel tanks. Six others were platform cars with nothing on them…The derailed fuel tanks are empty, but do contain fuel residue.”

Elizabethtown-Kitley Township fire chief Jim Donovan said firefighters arrived shortly before 5 a.m. and met up with the train’s conductor to assess the damage. There was no fire, but Donovan said there is a potential for a spill later on. “There are tank cars there that have aviation fuel residue in it… There’s quite a bit of potential there, that’s for sure.” Donovan said there’s no confirmation that there is no leakage. The train was traveling at about 100 kilometres an hour when it derailed“It could have been a lot worse than it was,” Donovan said. The CBC reports the derailment occurred on the tracks barely outside of residential Brockville near Lyn Road and Highway 401.  



The people of Brockville dodged a bullet last night, but it makes you wonder how long until the next Lac-Megantic.  I have written previously how the new rail safety regulations Lisa Raitt announced after this tragedy are nothing but smoke and mirrors, avoiding the structural safety issues at hand. I have also talked about how municipalities and first responders do not have access to real time data about rail shipments through their communities (they are in the dark as we are); not only that, but what we do have for information is strategically obscured by our government and rail companies.  Further, our regulations and emergency preparedness capacity is in an absolute shambles, as I have discussed here and here. If the situation stays as it currently is, it is only a matter of time before another one of our communities is destroyed.  I want to emphasize this is not hyperbole, if you use the ‘DOT-111 Detecting Disaster Spotters Guide’ and go out to your nearest tracks, you will spot tankers that should have no place being routed through our communities. For example, in just 12 hours in Toronto there was explosive bakkan crude tankers along with methyl bromide, methanol, sulphuric acid, resin solution, radioactive material, and ethyl tricholorsilane tankers spotted. Material like this are traveling through all our communities daily, on the way to Hamilton in May I spotted a chlorine tanker sitting in Oakville. What I am getting at is Brockville got lucky in this derailment, but no community should have to rely on getting lucky to dodge disaster. 

Using the calculations I outlined in this previous blog, we can make an educated guess in regards to the damage and death a single 90-ton chlorine tanker or a unit train carrying oil-by-rail like the one in Lac-Megantic would have caused in Brockville. 

The map shows an estimate of the distance 3ppm and 20ppm chlorine could travel depending on wind direction. 3ppm could – depending on wind directions and conditions – reach as far as the outskirts of Ottawa, Kingston or Cornwall. There would be a massive loss of life in Brockville which is well in the 20ppm range and would likely be much higher concentration than that. 

When this occurs the Chlorine oxidizes and begines to react with water and cells in our body changing into hydrochloric acid (HCl) and hypochlorous acid (HclO). About 1000 ppm it can be fatal after a few deep breaths of the gas.

I used the worst case scenario not to be needlessly alarmist, but because worst case scenarios do happen as Lac-Mégantic showed us. Using the pamphlets worst case scenario inputs (wind speed is at 1.5 meters/sec, humidity is 50%, ambient temperature is 25°C, 10 minute release, with a total mass release = 180,000 pounds) the results are:

Maximum downwind distance to 3ppm = 66.8km

Maximum crosswind distance to 3ppm = 3.7km

Maximum downwind distance to 20ppm =  23.4km

Maximum crosswind distance to 20ppm =  3.1km


If the derailment had occurred in directly in Brockville with a unit train carrying oil-by-rail like the one in Lac-Megantic there would also have been a catastrophic loss of life.  This is not to mention the oil (be it bakkan or conventional crude, or railbit from the tarsands) that would have got into the St. Lawrence seaway and the surrounding environment. 

In the case of oil tankers spilling there would also have to be a large evacuation and even larger if it caught fire as is show in the map below.

If we look at what could happen if a unit train had a mixed cargo with both chlorine and oil-by-rail, things get even worse. If the derailment were to occur at the point in the map below, the Red Cross, Brockville General Hospital, a school and a college would all be in the bast zone.  If not destroyed by the blast and fire, the chlorine would not be far behind.  In fact, using the worst case scenario projection for a Chlorine tanker I calculated the time a lethal leak would take (at 3m/s) to reach the Brockville General Hospital is 28 seconds


As I have noted before, this is not a rail vs. pipelines debate, that is a false choice. What is at issue here is a government’s unwillingness to change routes and regulations in order to appease industry. It is outrageous that our communities are continually at risk and that it is only a matter of time before the next disaster strikes.  While Brockville was lucky with this derailment and things could have been much worse (as I illustrated above), it is only a matter of time before another community has its luck run out.  


For more information see:

Just another Friday: Chlorine tankers in Oakville and Bomb-trains in Hamilton

One year anniversary of Lac Megantic

Pt. 2: Dr.ed- strangelaws or: hob I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb-train

Pt. 1: DR.-ed strangelaws or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb-train

It’s our right to know, Rail Safety Matters

Getting railroaded with DOT-111 Tanker Trains in Toronto

Oil-By-Rail exports to US up 900 Per Cent

Lisa Raitt and Stephen Harper Still Playing Dangerous Petro Politicking With Our Communities

DOT-111 Detecting Disaster Spotters Guide

Could Toronto be the next Lac-Magnetic disaster

Oil cars on fire after train collision in North Dakota

Moving oil by rail to expand despite public concerns

Harper told no regulatory approval needed for moving tar sands oil by rail