03/09/2015 11:56 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT

Gogama train derailment: 2 cars still in river after 38 leave track

Work at the site of a train derailment in northern Ontario, near the community of Gogama, continued through the night, CN Rail says.

The company said Monday it is making good progress on putting out fires and car removal following the derailment of 38 cars on a 94-car train on Saturday. Two of the cars remain the Matagami River.

"Fire suppression work continues at the site, and CN and its external specialists work to extinguish fires one car at a time," CN communications tweeted Monday morning.

"Extinguished cars are pulled clear for purging and eventual disposal; 24 cars are clear of [the] main derailment site as of this morning."

The rail company added no air and water quality issues have been identified, and containment booms remain in place downstream of the derailment site.

CN said it's working closely with local Gogama and Mattagami First Nations officials, and provincial and federal investigatory and regulatory officials.

The Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the site of Saturday's derailment and oil spill, which is only 37 kilometres from the location of a derailment last month. But with fires still burning, they haven't been able to get too close to the site.

'They could feel it in their chests'

Meanwhile, debate has been refuelled over whether rail is a safe way of transporting crude oil. The cars in Saturday's derailment were all carrying Alberta crude to eastern Canada.

First Nations and environmentalists are among those expressing alarm.

​Chief Walter Naveau of the Mattagami First Nation said his community no longer feels safe after the third CN derailment in northern Ontario in less than a month. There are concerns over the effects of smoke inhalation and environmental damage, he said.

"People in the community were feeling the affects of the toxins in the air — respiratory problems, they could feel it in their chests and their breathing," Naveau said in a phone interview.

CN said residents would likely see smoke rising from the derailment site, but insisted it posed no threat to people or the environment.

"They may say those things, but why should I trust them?" asked Naveau, adding his community is also concerned that the river flows into the community's main spawning grounds for fish, in addition to habitats for other wildlife.

Even though CN said it's taking action to contain any spilled oil and stop it from spreading into the river system, "anywhere you're going to see a major spill of oil and chemicals onto the ground you're going to see permanent contamination of the ecosystem nearby," said Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager for Environmental Defence,a non-profit, non-partisan environmental group.

"They almost never are able to clean up all of the oil released in a spill like this and it's much worse even when there's a direct spill into a river because the oil gets moved down the river and the chemicals can spread," Scott said.

'Something dramatic' required

Last month, a CN freight train derailed in the same area — 29 cars loaded with crude oil and petroleum distillates ran off the tracks and caused a fire.

CN said the cars involved in Saturday's derailment had enhanced shielding and harder steel in accordance with new, improved safety standards.

The TSB said last month the Class 111 tank cars involved in the previous derailment also met the upgraded standards, but still "performed similarly" to those involved in the devastating train wreck in Lac-Mégantic, Que., two years ago, which predated the changes.

The TSB said last month's incident demonstrated "the inadequacy" of the new standards and urged Transport Canada to quickly beef up protection standards.

Transport Canada said it is working with the U.S. to develop new, "more robust" safety standards for tank cars used to transport flammable liquids.

Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault, who represents the riding of Sudbury, said Saturday's incident clearly shows that the federal government must do more to strengthen rail safety regulations.

"The cars involved in this incident are new models, compliant with the latest federal regulations, yet they still failed to prevent this incident," he said.

Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said in a statement that the derailment was "very concerning" and that he would be raising the matter with his federal counterpart, Lisa Raitt, and the railways.

Scott noted an incident like this one is "basically guaranteed to happen again."

"This is not an isolated incident, we've seen several of these kinds of derailments in a month now," Scott said.

"So until something dramatic is done, we're going to see this continuing over and over again."