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Train cars carrying petroleum products safely removed from partially collapsed Calgary bridge

A Canadian Pacific freight train sits derailed on a failing bridge over the Bow River in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, June 27, 2013.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

All train cars have been safely cleared from a partially collapsed Calgary bridge, without any of the oily product on board spilling into the city's Bow River.

The six final cars were removed around 2 a.m. Friday morning after crews emptied them. The middle two cars were then uncoupled, and locomotives then pulled three cars off the bridge in either direction, acting Calgary Fire Chief Ken Uzeloc said.

Crews had finished emptying the rail cars at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday evening, with CP spokesman Ed Greenberg noting "no product was lost" in the process.

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CP said floodwaters ultimately compromised the company's bridge, but the derailment threatened to create another disaster for the recovering city.

Emergency crews pulled off the feat according to the plan they'd hatched the day before, Mr. Uzeloc said.

"I think that's the biggest thing that people don't understand – they just want to get in and do things. But I think taking the time to have a good solid plan before we implemented everything really paid off here," he said Friday morning.

There were no injuries and none of the petroleum product – distillate, used to dilute oil sands bitumen for shipping – spilled into the major river. Mr. Uzeloc called it the best possible outcome.

"You had five rail cars full of rail cars full of flammable liquid that, if they had ruptured or opened up, could have leaked into the river. You also had rail cars that, if they had gone in the river, would have floated down a significant portion of the river and could have run into other bridge [supports] or cause damage further down," he said.

The train derailed around 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning. CP CEO Hunter Harrison said the surging flood water in the Bow River wore away at a pier supporting the bridge, eventually spinning it and snapping it. The bridge then partially gave way, sagging toward the river as the six train cars hung precariously, upright but threatening to plunge into the river.

Mr. Harrison said the company couldn't inspect the submerged piers of the 101-year-old bridge because the current was too fast. Asked why CP didn't wait until the current slowed, he said the economy was already jeopardized.

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After the derailment, an irate Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called for cities to be given more power over railroads that run through them. Rail is federal responsibility, meaning that - even in a state of emergency - Calgary officials weren't allowed to inspect the CP bridge themselves.

With the situation under control, a nearby waste water treatment plant was reopened. Since the derailment, city sewage had been running directly into the river. It's now being partially processed, though city waste water treatment isn't up to full operation since the flood.

The mayor has regularly said the drinking water remains safe.

Bruce Burrell, the man leading Calgary's Emergency Management Agency during the disaster, said the train derailment diverted staff but didn't delay any specific flood recovery efforts on Thursday. "I can't think of anything we actually deferred. We just deployed, moved resources around and kept going," he said.

Crews were fortunate with the way the cars came to rest. When the pier broke, the bridge deck gave way, snapping and sagging downward. The train came to a rest, but was still upright, connected and the cars weren't touching each other.

"You know, it wasn't a lot of impact on them," Mr. Uzeloc said. "When the bridge end dropped, they still remained coupled. They didn't uncouple. And I think that was probably one of the good things. If it had uncoupled, I think it would have been a lot easier for the three [rail cars] on the south side to drop in. So, staying together really helped and they really didn't even land on each other, so there was no impingement from car to car. It was just the damage from the drop of the bridge. They didn't even rub against anything, so that's what helped us out a lot."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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