August 29, 2013

'Blitz' on to inspect oil-train contents

Regulators are checking for improper cargoes and testing flammability in the wake of the deadly Quebec crash.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

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Petroleum transport rail cars sit on a siding near Route 115 in Yarmouth.

2013 Press Herald File Photo / Gordon Chibroski

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Canada's Transportation Safety Board is still investigating in Quebec. Soon after the derailment, Transport Canada issued a temporary emergency order prohibiting one-man crews.

Luc Bourdon, director general of Transport Canada's rail division, said his agency has begun a study to examine the crew issue.

"Was (crew size) a contributing factor? We don't know," he said. "But in the meantime, we want to revise everything."

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train was parked unattended about 7 miles from downtown Lac-Megantic late in the evening on July 5. The engineer apparently left one of the locomotives running to power the air brakes, and set an as-yet-undisclosed number of hand brakes on rail cars as backup before he went into town for the night.

But the locomotive apparently was shut down by firefighters who were called to extinguish a fire in the engine, eventually leading to the failure of the air brakes.

Questions remain about what happened after firefighters reported their actions to railway employees.

Before dawn on July 6, the unmanned train rolled downhill into Lac-Megantic. Witnesses estimate that the nearly mile-long train was going as fast as 60 mph -- in a 10 mph zone -- when it reached town and jumped the tracks.

Thursday's committee discussion showed that the railroads and labor unions are on different tracks regarding minimum crew size. A union representative suggested again Thursday that the single engineer couldn't have completed all of the safety steps needed to properly secure the train outside Lac-Megantic.

The Federal Railroad Administration has made clear that is believes safety is "enhanced" with a two-person crew. Szabo, a former union official, said he would prefer to address the issue through the collaborative advisory committee process, but his agency has the authority to address crew size.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

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