Derailed tanker cars drained, cleared from broken Calgary bridge

CALGARY – Six tanker cars that teetered on a partially collapsed railway bridge over Calgary’s swollen Bow River were successfully removed early Friday.

Five of the derailed cars had been carrying a product used to dilute raw oilsands bitumen, but workers earlier removed it to new cars on an adjacent stable bridge.

The partially collapsed bridge gave way after most of the train had crossed.

The rail cars were stabilized before locomotives positioned on each end of the damaged bridge pulled them safely to each side.

“They lifted it up and then they pulled in both directions and broke the coupler in the middle so three of the damaged cars went one way and three went the other,” said Calgary’s Acting Fire Chief Ken Uzeloc.

“This came off without incident,” he said at an early morning briefing.

“There was no product released at all into the Bow River and no injuries related to this and again in less than 24-hours those cars were removed and now CP will start working on the bridge repair replacement based on their engineers.”

Hunter Harrison, the CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway, called the incident an “extraordinary” event. He said bridge piers at the bottom of the river failed, and that engineers blamed the failure on fast water scouring away gravel under the support.

Uzeloc said there were concerns that things could have ended much worse.

“You had five rail cars full of flammable liquid that if they had ruptured or opened up could have leaked into the river,” he said.

“You also had rail cars, if they had gone into the river, would have floated down a significant portion of the river, then could have run into other bridge abutments or caused damage further down.”

The derailment is just part of a long line of disasters that has plagued Calgary over the past week. The worst flood in Alberta history caused extensive damage in Calgary and forced 100,000 people from their homes.

Other parts of southern Alberta, particularly the Town of High River, south of Calgary, were also devasted by flooding.

Uzeloc said the bridge collapse initially sounded like some sort of emergency preparedness exercise.

“I think we’re due for a couple of nice, calm days.”