Thursday, April 24, 2014
Less than a month after a runaway Maine railroad train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Quebec, leaving 47 people dead, the Federal Railroad Administration on Friday issued an emergency order aimed at preventing a similar disaster in the United States.
A derailed Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train displays a "remote control" sign Wednesday in Brownville. Trains carrying a single engineer must display the sign and they sometimes are operated by remote control.
Tom Bell / Staff Writer
Rail cars remain strewn about the crash site July 16 where a train derailed and caught fire on July 6 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
The Associated Press
The order prohibits trains transporting hazardous materials from being left unattended on a mainline track or side track outside a yard or terminal unless specifically authorized to do so.
Also Friday, Maine U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud introduced a bill that would effectively ban the practice of one-person crews on freight trains. The U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the Federal Railroad Administration, said it believes that railroad safety is "enhanced through the use of multiple crew members," but it stopped short of banning the practice of one-man train crews.
The train that derailed in Quebec had been left unattended and its owner, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, routinely uses one-man crews.
While U.S. transportation officials wait for the results of the full investigation into the July 6 accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the Department of Transportation is taking steps to prevent a similar incident from occurring in this country, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement Friday evening.
The Federal Railroad Administration's order is a mandatory directive to the rail industry, and failure to comply will result in enforcement actions, he said.
The order gives the nation's railroads 30 days to comply with the following measures:
• No train or vehicles transporting specified hazardous materials can be left unattended on a mainline track or side track outside a yard or terminal without the authorization of the Federal Railroad Administration. To receive authorization, railroads must submit a plan for securing unattended trains transporting hazardous materials, including locking the locomotive or otherwise disabling it, and reporting among employees to ensure that the correct number of hand brakes is applied.
• Workers responsible for securing trains transporting hazardous materials must tell train dispatchers the number of hand brakes applied, the tonnage and length of the train, the grade and terrain features of the track, and any relevant weather conditions. Train dispatchers must record the information provided and verify that it meets the railroad's requirements.
• Railroads must ensure that any employee involved in securing a train participate in daily job briefings.
• Before a train can be left unattended after an emergency incident, such as a fire, a qualified railroad employee would have to inspect all rail equipment that an emergency responder had been on, under or between.
Because the Federal Railroad Administration issued its emergency order Friday evening, it was not immediately clear how U.S. railroads would react to it. But the rail agency's administrator, Joseph Szabo, said in a statement he is encouraged by the industry's willingness to cooperate with the agency's approach.
"The safe shipment of all cargo is paramount and protecting the safety of the American public is fundamental to our enforcement strategy," Szabo said.
Canadian transportation officials continue to investigate how a parked, unattended train operated by Hermon-based Montreal, Maine & Atlantic crashed in Lac-Megantic, setting off explosions that destroyed the center of town.
The train, which was hauling 72 cars of crude oil, rolled down a hill after its engineer parked it and went to a hotel. Canada's Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the brakes weren't applied with sufficient force to hold the train in place.
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