Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the disaster in Lac-Megantic, when an unmanned train carrying more than 70 cars of crude oil crashed in the center of the eastern Quebec town and exploded, killing 47 people and causing millions of dollars in damage.
For the town, it is a time to remember the victims, and to attempt to heal and come to terms with that awful night and its aftermath. Elsewhere, it’s an opportunity to look at the lessons of the tragedy and review what needs to be done to keep something like it from happening again.
The Lac-Megantic disaster brought much-needed attention to the precipitous rise in oil shipments by rail and the aging stock of cars in which it is shipped.
Because of the recent quick rise of oil production here in the United States, particularly in North Dakota, the amount of oil shipped by rail in this country went from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 415,000 last year.
Two-thirds of the rail cars carrying the crude oil are the older DOT-111s, which are more prone to spilling during accidents than their newer counterparts.
Canada has ordered the phasing out of the DOT-111s by 2016. The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering a similar move, as well as limitations on train speeds, though the new regulations are being held up by railroad companies and rail car owners.
The concern over the older cars is not new, however, and the necessity for speed control at some level is clear. The agency must act soon.
The Lac-Megantic crash, though, was principally caused by negligence, and perhaps more safeguards are needed to make sure trains are locked securely in place on level ground.
There also should be reform related to accident insurance. The rail company involved in the Lac-Megantic crash carried only $25 million in insurance; the cost of cleanup is around $200 million.
More training is necessary, as well, for the firefighters who would respond to a disaster. In the case of Lac-Megantic, that included departments from Maine’s Franklin County.
As for the town itself, residents are asking for the railroad tracks, which will one day once again carry crude oil, be rerouted around the heart of Lac-Megantic. They at least deserve that.
The residents of Lac-Megantic will never fully shake the feelings reverberating from July 6, 2013. But they have to know they will keep recovering, and that it won’t happen there again.
At the same time, residents of other railside towns need to know everything is being done to avoid making their community the next Lac-Megantic.