The federal government ordered lower speed limits for all trains carrying large amounts of dangerous goods Thursday, hours after a fiery derailment in rural Saskatchewan sent thick black smoke into the air.
A Canadian Pacific freight train carrying crude oil jumped the tracks at about 6:15 a.m. near Guernsey, 115 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon. Thirty-one of the 104 cars derailed and a dozen caught fire, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency said.
It also said there were no injuries.
"It looks like the back third of the train (derailed) and ... heavy, heavy smoke,'' said Blaine Weber, who lives in nearby Lanigan.
"There's probably at least 15, 20 cars ... all stacked up on the crossing that comes off the Yellowhead Highway.”
A pillar of dark smoke continued to billow from the flaming wreckage well after daybreak.
Jack Gibney, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Usborne, which includes Guernsey, said about 85 residents were evacuated from homes in the agricultural community. The hamlet is surrounded by farmland and is near a potash mine operated by Nutrien.
Tom Lukiwski, the member of Parliament for the area, said he was shocked to learn the derailment is the second to happen on the same stretch of rail within two months.
About 19 cars on another CP train ran off the tracks Dec. 9 about 10 kilometres to the west, causing a major blaze and leaking 1.5 million litres of oil.
"To have two major derailments that are incredibly serious? is something that is almost incomprehensible,'' Lukiwski said. “I am not a big believer in coincidence, and this seems to be that it's more than just coincidence.”
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the ministerial order will require trains carrying 20 or more cars of dangerous goods to travel at lower speeds while the crash is investigated.
"That speed reduction will require them to go at no more than 25 miles (40 kilometres) per hour across the country except ... 20 miles (32 kilometres) per hour in built-up metropolitan areas,” Garneau said in Ottawa. Those speed limits are half as fast as limits currently listed on Transport Canada's website.
"This will be put into effect for the next 30 days. We could shorten that – we’re looking for the causes to see if there is a common pattern – or we could lengthen it depending on how things are progressing,'' he said.
"I realize there will be an effect on the economy of the country because our trains move important goods across the country, but it is very, very important that we not sacrifice safety.”
The Transportation Safety Board had investigators heading to the site.
CP confirmed the derailment but provided no other details Thursday.
Local resident Patty Prentice was driving to work just after the derailment and, in the pre-dawn darkness, initially thought she was coming across a small fire.
"The flames just got bigger and bigger and I could feel the heat when I drove by,'' Prentice said.
She said she called relatives who also live in the area and heard they were told to get out. “They knocked on doors, told them ... to meet at the community centre if they wanted to know more information.''
The section of the Yellowhead Highway, a major route through Western Canada, was closed in both directions.
RCMP allowed through a couple of semi-trailers and front-end loaders, which were being used to put out the flames.
Weber said he wants answers on why there have been two recent derailments in the area.
"I'm really, really concerned about the seeming lack of accountability.”
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