July 18, 2013

Maine asks freight operators for policies on securing trains

The request comes after an unattended train carrying crude oil rolled away, crashed and exploded in Quebec, killing 50 people.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The LePage administration is asking freight train operators in Maine to tell the state how they secure parked trains.

The request comes after an unattended Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train carrying crude oil rolled away from the yard where it was parked and derailed, causing explosions and fire that destroyed much of downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and killing 50 people. The town is about 10 miles from the Maine border along a rail line operated by a Maine-based company.

"Although no one should jump to conclusions regarding exact causes of the derailment on July 6th, the very existence of a high-speed, runaway freight train carrying volatile materials indicates that certain railroad safety practices can be established, improved, or communicated," Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt wrote in a letter to the state's five freight train operators.

The Federal Rail Administration is in charge of regulating rail safety, but the letter asks operators to voluntarily submit existing or proposed policies or practices that relate to securing parked trains, including parking locations, setting of hand brakes, monitoring of trains, timing of crew changes and security. Bern- hardt asked for the information by the end of this month.

"While the investigation continues into the cause of the derailment, I want to do everything we can to ensure the safety standards of Maine's rail system," Gov. Paul LePage said in a written statement. "Maine people expect that a key part of our infrastructure has the proper oversight and transparency."

The five freight rail operators in Maine are: Eastern Maine Railway-Northern Maine Railway; Maine Eastern Railroad; Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway; Pan Am Railways; and St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad.

LePage ordered a safety review in the days after the accident and the Federal Rail Administration is in Maine this week to inspect the rails and operations of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. Maine's U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree requested the inspection.

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