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A sign signals the closure of Highway 16 as smoke billows up from a derailed Canadian Pacific Railway train near Guernsey, Sask., on Feb. 6, 2020.Matt Smith/The Canadian Press

The cleanup and search for causes of a fiery train crash near Guernsey, Sask., began Friday, even as nearby residents were advised to stay away from their homes because of the amount of smoke still billowing from the wreck.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire 115 kilometres south of Saskatoon on Thursday morning, the second fire of an oil-carrying train on the same tracks in two months.

“The main focus at this time remains on fire suppression, but movement of rail cars and cleanup of leaked oil has already begun,” said Christopher Clemett, a spokesman for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.

CP said the 104-car train consisted of TC117J tank cars, a new model designed with thicker tank walls and other features intended to better withstand crashes than older models, which have been phased out by Canada and the United States after the 2013 oil-train explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

”CP does not own any of the tank cars involved,” said Jeremy Berry, a CP spokesman.

Since Lac-Mégantic, the amount of oil moving by rail has risen sharply, and there have been several crude trains that have caught fire.

Malcolm Cairns, a rail safety consultant and former lobbyist for CP, said he is puzzled by the two recent oil-train fires in Saskatchewan, given the older tank cars are no longer in use. He speculated the dilutive chemicals added to the oil are combining with air in the tanks to increase the volatility.

“Oil isn’t really very flammable and these new cars are supposed to be resistant” to failure in crashes, he said. “I don’t think anyone really knows the answers yet.”

A spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the derailment, said on Friday it is too early to provide details.

A BNSF Railway Co. train carrying Alberta oil derailed in Iowa in 2018, spilling thousands of gallons of crude into a river. The crash was one of the first that involved a retrofitted versions of the tank car, called DOT117R in the U.S.

Amy Casas, a BNSF spokeswoman, declined to confirm reports that the Fort Worth, Tex.-based railway began refusing to haul the retrofitted tank cars after the derailment. But Ms. Casas said the railway is encouraging its customers to use tank cars that are new – not retrofitted.

“BNSF continues to handle all car types allowed under federal regulation for crude, but we are working with our individual customers to facilitate getting the newest and safest tank cars, currently the DOT117Js, in service sooner on our railroad,” Ms. Casas said.

“BNSF doesn’t own the tank cars used to ship crude oil on our network, however it is incumbent on all parts of the supply chain to ensure we have the safest tank car in which to move this commodity.”

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau responded to Thursday’s crash by issuing a 30-day order that cut in half the speed limit for trains carrying 20 or more cars of dangerous goods. The new speed limit in cities is 20 miles an hour and 25 in other areas.

The slow-order was called insufficient by a representative of a group of Toronto businesses and homeowners that has called for improvements to tank cars. It also wants freight trains hauling hazardous goods to be shortened, slowed down and diverted from densely populated areas.

“You’re not relying on the durability of the tank-car technology, you’re just slowing the train down so that when it crashes … there is going to be less destruction,” said Henry Wiercinski of Rail Safety First.

Oil companies were mostly tight-lipped on what effect the new speed limit might have on their operations.

In an e-mail Friday, Cenovus Energy Inc. said while the speed reductions may affect delivery times, it’s only a temporary measure.

Brad Herald, Western Canadian vice-president at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said in a statement it’s too early to quantify the impact of a lower speed limit on rail cars carrying dangerous goods and the entire Canadian rail network. “Safety is our prime consideration and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is ready to engage with the government in any way we can as they review the incident in Saskatchewan."

CP’s share price fell by more than 1 per cent on Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange, for a cumulative decline of about 2 per cent since Mr. Garneau’s slow-order announcement on Thursday afternoon. Shares in Canadian National Railway Co., which said the new speed limit would have a “significant impact” on its traffic, saw its share price fall by 2 per cent on Friday.

With a report from Emma Graney

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