Sulphur-Train Derailments in Canada
Ideas on what to do to attract more people that wish to live in Lamont County
The proposed sulphur storage facility envisioned to
be constructed between Bruderheim and Lamont is a bad idea.
Sulphur-Train Derailments in Canada
Reports by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada
||Incident and Location
||25 June 1994
||Canadian National Railway Company
CN Freight Train Number 716-23
at Mile 57.50, CN Camrose Subdivision
|A Canadian National Railway Company (CN)
freight train proceeding southward on the CN Camrose Subdivision
derailed the 33rd to the 55th cars from the locomotives as the train
passed over the public crossing at Mile 57.5 near Duhamel, Alberta.
There were no injuries. There was substantial damage to 1,350 feet
||There were no injuries
||26 March 1997
Train No. Q-102-51-26
Mile 106.15, Ashcroft Subdivision
Conrad, British Columbia
|At 0606 Pacific standard time on 26
March 1997, Canadian National train No. Q-102-51-26 (train 102),
travelling from Boston Bar, British Columbia, to Kamloops, British
Columbia, on the Ashcroft Subdivision encountered a large roadbed
depression and derailed at Mile 106.15, near Conrad, British
Columbia. Both crew members were fatally injured.
The Board determined that an extraordinary volume of surface
water run-off from melting heavy snow cover and high seasonal
precipitation was not captured and carried away as intended by the
drainage system above the adjacent Trans-Canada Highway. The water
soaked into the ground, migrated through the highway fills, and
infiltrated and destabilized the railway subgrade. The railway
subgrade could not sustain the resultant high pore pressure and
collapsed. Contributing factors included the presence of
moisture-sensitive alluvial deposits in the bottom area of the
railway subgrade and the overlapping nature of the highway fills
which created a contiguous groundwater flow path into the railway
|The locomotive engineer and the
conductor were fatally injured.
||04 December 2002
Canadian Pacific Railway
Mile 11.8, Taber Subdivision
Bullshead, [about 8 miles west from Medicine Hat,]Alberta
|At 0055 mountain standard time on
04 December 2002, eastward Canadian Pacific Railway freight
train 614-046, proceeding
toward Dunmore, Alberta, from Lethbridge, Alberta, derailed
42 loaded non-pressure tank cars of molten sulphur at Mile 11.8 of
the Taber Subdivision, near Bullshead, Alberta. Ten tank cars were
breached, spilling molten sulphur, which caught fire. Approximately
20 people were evacuated from farms near the accident site as a
precaution due to the toxic nature of the smoke. There were no
[My Note: As of today, some of the owners of the farms that were
evacuated are still trying to receive compensation for their losses.
Except for a case in which a private settlement took place, not a dime has been received by them so
far, and the site restoration - contracted to HAZCO - is said to be far from
satisfactory. One of the land owners affected stated that HAZCO
abandoned the reclamation effort. More
details and photo at the bottom of this page]
|There were no injuries. [That is
according to the TSB report. However, the landowner reports
that her son has had since then frequent heavy nosebleeds that keep
And in the news (from Canada and the world)
|Loaded sulphur unit train struck loaded
sulphur unit train standing on main track.
|On 23 Aug 1983, 5275 was the lead
trailing) on a loaded unit sulphur train coming out of Kaybob AB (Sangudo
Sub) doing about 10 miles per hour. Rounding a curve in the dark at
about 2200, the locomotive struck some other loaded sulphur cars on
the main line. Result is shown in this
taken the next morning. Complete details are in the book
struck the side of some liquid sulphur tank cars,
knocking five of them off the rails,
|A Lakeland and Waterways train using CN
power collided with an east-bound CN train on a parallel track at
the west end of Walker Yard in Edmonton. A crossover switch between
the two tracks was lined to cross over, and the locomotive
struck the side of some liquid sulphur tank cars, knocking
five of them off the rails. Tim Husel, Lakeland and Waterways
general manager, did not think the incident would ruin the good
working relationship his company has built with CN. Lakeland and
Waterways trains regularly operate in and out of CN's Walker Yards.
||26 November 2003
||Canada, north of Quesnel, BC.
went off the tracks
|A small quantity spilled and the BC Rail line was
re-opened later the same day.
Khoransan Province, Iran
||Forty-eight freight cars (17 loaded with sulfur, 6 with gasoline, 7 with fertilizer, and 10 with cotton) derailed, burned and exploded.
Train explosion in Iran
|460 people were injured and escaped with their lives, and 328 people died.
Cheam View, Fraser Valley, British Columbia. CN.
||A Canadian National freight train, consisting
of two locomotives and 97 cars, derailed. The train was loaded with
dry sulphur. ...
USA, Littleton, Colorado
Freight train derailment
|A Burlington Northern/Santa Fe 68-car
freight train with 17 cars carrying liquid sulphur derailed in the
centre of Littleton. Three of the sulphur cars were punctured.
About 100 gal of the liquid sulphur leaked and started a number of
small fires that were quickly put out.
||There were no injuries
Curiously, the Canadian incidents reported
in the news didn't show up in the reports by
the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. (Be that as it may, the
blog of folc.ca contains a list (so far a
very short one) of
articles on derailments of sulphur-trains or sulphur-cars. The
list will be updated whenever folc.ca becomes aware of a news article on any
sulphur train derailment.)
However, even more curiously, the group of reports at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada
relating to pipeline incidents did not include a single report pertaining to
problems or fires involving the transport of sulphur by pipeline.
Yet, the National Energy Board held a hearing October 2001 investigating
specifically a series of problems affecting a sulphur pipeline owned and
operated by Westcoast Energy Inc. near Hasler Flats (west of Chetwynd,
North-Eastern B.C.), at the Pine River Gas Plant.
The Pine River [BC] Gas Plant Sulpur Pipeline (sulphur
pipeline) was designed to be 168 mm (6 inches) in diameter, 5.5 km (3.4
miles) in length, and to carry liquid sulphur from the sulphur recovery
plant at the Pine River Gas Plant to a sulphur pelletizing plant. The
pipeline was designed for a flow rate of 2000 tonnes/day with a maximum
flow rate of 3000 tonnes/day....
Source: National Energy Board
Reasons for Decision
In the Matter of Westcoast Energy Inc.
Pine River Gas Plant - Sulphur Pipeline
October 2001, pp. 1,
4 - 7
Report (PDF file)
It is more interesting yet that in the report on the
investigation by the National Energy Board a number of concerns were listed
that needed to be addressed by Westcoast Energy Inc. before Westcoast was to
be permitted to put their pipeline back into operation. It so happens
that all of those concerns are of the type of which HAZCO is persistently in
denial. Does that make one wonder whether it is HAZCO or the National
Energy Board that knows more about the dangers of sulphur processing,
handling and transporting? Perhaps the issue is not so much how much
the respective parties know but which of the parties is more forthright.
It should be noted that one of the conditions posed by the
National Energy Board involves an issue with respect to which HAZCO
persistently drags its feet, the matter of an emergency response plan.
Amongst other things, the report by the National Energy Board states this
about an emergency response plan for the Pine River Gas Plant sulphur
The basic elements of an emergency response plan
• general and site specific emergency response
• monitoring protocols to verify adherence to public evacuation and
• a description and location of response equipment;
• an estimation of response times for different emergency scenarios;
• a procedure to establish and maintain liaison with all parties
that may be involved in an emergency situation;
• a training plan;
• a communication plan; and
• a procedure to ensure that emergency response exercises and
response activities from incidents are reviewed and incorporated
into the emergency procedures manual, staff training, and continuing
While the SPERP contains these basic elements, the Board
has identified the following three concerns:
• a discrepancy between the SPERP and FERP with
respect to monitoring protocols to verify adherence to public
evacuation and shelter criteria;
• training on the Incident Command System is a one time only
requirement (see section 3.3.3) for each level; and
• the omission of a definite commitment to post incident follow-up.
Westcoast must clarify its monitoring protocols to
ensure there is no short- or long-term risk to health or safety of
individuals or the environment from the operation of the sulphur
pipeline. Further, given the importance of training in the area of
emergency response, Westcoast should develop and track an employee
training program as discussed in Section 3.3.3.
The Board recommends that Westcoast, prior to
restarting the pipeline, address the discrepancies between the
Company’s SPERP and FERP regarding SO2 levels, monitoring
protocols and the public evacuation and shelter criteria. Once
clarified, these requirements need to be communicated to employees
and the public. The Board further recommends that Westcoast review
training requirements to identify those staff that require
additional training to maintain a high level of emergency
Source: ibid. pp. 16-17
It is well worth the effort it takes to read
report. What happened with the
Pine River Gas Plant - Sulphur Pipeline (as a result of burning no more
than an estimated 107kg of sulphur) with respect to workers and residents
could well happen in the County of Lamont; except that in the County of
Lamont vastly larger number of people and livestock would be at risk.
The concerns expressed here don't involve idle or trivial threats. In
its answer to FAQ #32 HAZCO stated that "....Molten
sulphur will be received by one of three methods, pipeline, rail tank car or
truck. " That is what HAZCO stated in
writing. Verbally, HAZCO repeatedly stated that all
three methods for transporting sulphur to
the proposed site would be used.
"The B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks approved
an application from Shell Canada Ltd. and Amoco Canada Petroleum Co. for the
construction of a long-term sulphur blocking facility near the new Pine
River expansion plant."
In November 1994, Westcoast Energy Inc. completed its
$300 million expansion at the Pine River gas processing plant; the
expansion doubled the plant’s sulphur capacity from 1080 t/d to 2000
t/d. Westcoast will also complete three other projects in northeastern
British Columbia between 1995 and 1997: (1) the $673 million Grizzly
Valley Expansion project, which calls for a new gas gathering and
processing plant at Chetwynd-Tumbler Ridge with a sulphur recovery
capacity of 1600 t/d, to be completed by late 1997; (2) a $266 million
expansion near Fort St. John involving the construction of a new gas
plant at Beg-Jedney near Aitken Creek with a sulphur capacity of 200
t/d, to be completed by late 1995; and (3) a $55 million debottlenecking
project at the Fort St. John/McMahon gas plant, which is expected to
increase raw gas throughput by 14%, starting in 1995.
The B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks
approved an application from Shell Canada Ltd. and Amoco Canada
Petroleum Co. for the construction of a long-term
facility near the new Pine River expansion plant. The construction of
the 500,000-t basepad was completed in the fall. Its design was based on
Shell’s facility at Shantz, Alberta. (Sulphur,
by Michel Prud’homme, Natural Resources Canada, CANADIAN MINERALS
YEARBOOK, 1994, p. 3)
The Dec. 4,
2002 sulphur-train derailment and fire near Medicine Hat.
The landowners at the site of the derailment report that:
- The derailment happened at about 1 am. Notification to
evacuate was given at about 4 am. The landowners asked the RCMP whether
would have time to evacuate their horses. The RCMP said there was not time
for that, as of that time nothing much was known about the risks
involved with the derailment and fire, e.g. what it was that was
- As the landowners' family members left their home, they could feel the burning of acid rain
that fell on their skin (that would have to have been the water vapour
from the fire-fighting operation that condensed and formed,
combining with the SO2 released from the fire, into
sulphuric acid]. Overhead, the wife said, there was a bluish
cloud of gas.
- The fire was put out a few hours later, and the landowners and
the members of their family returned to
their property in the afternoon on the day of the derailment.
- Subsequently, although the initial fire had been put out,
additional fires broke out repeatedly for a period of six weeks.
The reason for that was, as per the landowners, that all 42 of the
derailed rail cars had to be ripped apart, to spill the sulphur
(liquid as well as solidified sulphur) onto the adjacent land and
into the adjacent irrigation canal, as there
was no method or place available for the disposal of the sulphur
contained in the cars [where did the sulphur eventually go?]. The work associated with that caused
the additional fires. [As per
TSB derailment report, the Seven Persons fire department stood by for
the duration of the 6-week salvage operation to put out any fires
that happened to be started during the necessary work.] However,
as the landowners report, often when HAZCO employees went home at
night to resume work the next morning, they had to call HAZCO to
tell them that sulphur at the site had begun to burn once more.
Upon being notified, HAZCO employees would return and extinguish the
new sulphur fires that had erupted in their absence.
- At the site of the derailment many pieces of sulphur that had been scattered
are visible. Moreover, nothing grows there now. However, gophers
are digging there, and the earth that is being brought up by the gophers clearly contains sulphur.
[We looked for that during our Mar 25 visit to the site but could not
find any instances of gopher hills.] That is understandable, as the liquid sulphur had covered the ground
in places to a considerable depth and had become mixed with the
soil. [See photo, above.] Sulphur is difficult to
remove from soil mechanically. To clean up the
sulphur-contaminated soil, all of the soil would have had to be
removed to the depth it had been disturbed and become mixed with
sulphur. Uncontaminated soil would have had to be brought in
to replace the soil that had been removed. Apparently HAZCO,
who were to perform the site reclamation, did that, but it
is incongruous that so many pieces of sulphur are still evident at
the derailment site.]
- An irrigation canal affected by the derailment has been
restored. However, in accordance with the landowners' concerns
and true to their
predictions at the time [also verified during our Mar. 25, 2006 visit to
the site], no vegetation grows on the bottom
of the restored irrigation canal. Therefore the canal is suffering now from water erosion.
It appears that the elevation of the bottom of the irrigation canal
at that location is now somewhat lower than the preceding and
subsequent portion of the irrigation canal that had not been
- At the start of the header irrigation ditch that leads away from
the irrigation gate at the irrigation canal, a culvert, covered with
dirt, had been placed by HAZCO into the header ditch to permit salvage and repair vehicles to cross the ditch. The culvert is still there in the
header ditch. That culvert now obstructs the flow of
irrigation water to the field served by the header ditch. That
problem is caused by the culvert being slightly too small, with its
end having been bent partially shut, and by the culvert being
elevated at one end. In consequence, one of the landowners
stated, it is no longer possible to irrigate their land properly by
- Hazco had been contracted by either CPR or Alberta Environment
to effect the restoration of the derailment site. Don Friesen,
the COE of HAZCO,
had promised to the landowners that the affected land was to be in as
good or better condition after completion of that work as it was before the
derailment happened. In the landowners' opinion, Don Friesen of HAZCO broke his promise, and HAZCO simply abandoned their restoration work before it was completed, leaving the affected land in deplorable condition.
We can attest to that. When we visited the derailment site it
was obvious that, although the horses had grazed well right up to
the portion of the land onto which the sulphur had been spilled, the
sparse vegetation on the affected portion of the land (about thee
acres) is not being touched by the horses. Perhaps that is due
to taste preferences, perhaps it is merely horse sense. Still,
it is obvious that the soil there contains many pieces of sulphur.
As the ground was frozen at the time of our visit, it was not possible to tell whether
only sulphur pieces at the surface are being involved or whether
more sulphur is mixed into the soil at lower depths. There
must be some reason why the bottom of the irrigation canal at the
derailment site does not permit vegetation to grow.
Aside from that, a portion of the "restored" land now contains one
area that retains run-off water. The resulting water-logging
of the soil at that location prevents growth of desirable vegetation,
while some weeds grow there sparsely.
- Alberta Environment has been less than helpful in helping the
landowners with their concerns. If any reports were produced by Alberta Environment or by anyone else, none of those reports have
been made available to the landowners. The landowners stated that
three years after the derailment
the TSB derailment report was not
yet available on the Internet, and that the report had been posted
only upon their insistence.
- On account of the sulphur train derailment and subsequent
sulphur fires on their land, the landowners lost the stallion of
their horse breeding operation. The stallion, a national halter
champion , was worth an estimated $40,000 to $50,000. The stallion had not been evacuated during the initial fire and
evacuation. However, when subsequently sulphur fires continued
to break out and burn, the landowners moved their stallion to an ice arena
in the vicinity. No compensation has been paid to them for any expenses incurred with that or for the loss of
the stallion. CPR authorities tell them that CPR has no obligation to pay anything in compensation for the relocation
of the horse, as the animal was moved during a time when no evacuation order
was in place.
- It appears that an evacuation order should have been in place
for the duration of the clean-up operations by HAZCO. During the six-week aftermath of the derailment
and while sulphur fires continued to develop, the landowners' son
began to suffer from frequent and severe nosebleeds that occur until now,
although now with somewhat lesser frequency.
- The site of the derailment is about eight miles south-west from Medicine Hat.
- A neighbour of the landowners appears to have settled for an
undisclosed amount of compensation. However, as far as the
landowners know, that is the only settlement that has taken place.
They have been to court to attempt to obtain a settlement, but it
appears now that a Class II environmental impact assessment study will have to
be done to substantiate the assertions by the landowners.
The landowners estimate that the costs of that and continued
involvement by lawyers will set them back by an additional $20,000.
- Reports of the derailment were not published in the media,
except for accounts in two local newspapers.
Back to Index for sulphur-storage web pages
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Posted July 23, 2005
2006 02 24 (added information on sulphur pipeline fires)
2006 03 12 (added more information on fires at Pine River
gas plant sulphur pipeline)
2006 03 24 (added information about the sulphur train derailment and fire near
2006 03 26 (added information gathered during our 2006 03 25 visit to the site
of the sulphur train derailment and fire near