The Wapske disaster in review

A public relations nightmare unfolded on January 8, 2014 near Wapske when a CN freight train containing crude oil derailed in northwestern New Brunswick.  Media, environmentalists, and citizens at large have raised serious questions about CN’s commitment to corporate and social responsibility surrounding current safety protocols of railway transport in the country.


CBC reported that “among the cars that derailed at the end of the train were five cars carrying crude oil and four cars filled with liquefied petroleum gas.  Each tank car can carry between 550 and 650 barrels of oil, according to the Rail Association of Canada.”

The president of CN Railway, Claude Mongeau “described the fire as a controlled burn that is normal after a derailment involving cars carrying petroleum products.”

According to GlobalTV, “He [Mongeau] says 17 cars derailed just before 8 p.m. Tuesday near Wapske, a town about five kilometres outside Plaster Rock. Five of them were carrying crude oil that was destined for an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.”


CN’s response in question


The first priority of CN was to ensure that all affected parties were safe.  Mongeau said that “the fire is our first priority at the moment. We have the equipment, we have the people and we have all the procedures in place to deal with it in a safe manner.”  Mongeau said the train consisted of about 122 cars.

Mongeau said that “the crew went to inspect the train and found that the 13th car behind the locomotives had derailed and noticed the axle had failed, but investigators don’t know what role that might have played in the derailment.”

Mongeau stated that the railway cars were inspected to code.  “The train was inspected in Montreal as per regulation before it left that city and that it would have moved over a number of wayside detectors designed to identify potential problems such as mechanical issues with wheels or dragging equipment. He said officials would want to review the data from those detectors.”

Phasing out old railcars

Following the crash, on January 14, the railway industry announced that it would “aggressively phase out” antiqued tanker cars that had been involved in accidents.  According to the National Post, “the consensus at the day-long workshop was that there’s no quick fix for a decades-old problem that has almost 80,000 sub-standard DOT-111 tank cars carrying flammable liquids on North American tracks.”


Olivia Chow, NDP Transport critic, stated that the Conservatives have been “recklessly backtracking” on emergency protocols after  Lac-Mégantic derailment in 2013.  Chow insists that the Conservative government have done little to ensure safety in the industry.

Maclean’s magazine reported that New Brunswick Premier David Alward has not been discouraged by the crash.  “What we need to make sure is that the systems are safe … and that when something happens we have the ability to respond quickly and effectively.”

 Corporate responsibility

Following the accident, issues of corporate responsibility have challenged CN’s commitment to public safety.  Mongeau claimed that there had been relatively little impact to the environment, air quality, and that the “spill seems to be very contained and hopefully will be manageable.”

In CN’s 2012 annual report, they state that “CN is committed to being a good corporate citizen. At CN, sound corporate citizenship touches nearly every aspect of what we do, from governance to business ethics, from safety to environmental protection. Central to this comprehensive approach is our strong belief that good corporate citizenship is simply good business.” Following two disasters in less than a year, their record of corporate responsibility indeed hangs in the balance.


 How are accidents such as Wapske or Lac-Mégantic preventable?  What more can be to hold CN accountable for their actions?  Is more governmental regulation the right course of action?  What would you have done in Mongeau’s position?  Please let me know in the comments below.


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