Canada's two dominant railway operators are tightening their safety standards after the train disaster in Lac-Mégantic that killed dozens of people and devastated the community.

Canadian Pacific Railway has updated its general operating instructions in the wake of the July 6 disaster, when an unattended 72-car Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train carrying oil derailed, caught fire and exploded, leveling the city's downtown core in the process.

"The recent situation gave us a chance to thoroughly review our safety procedures," CP spokesman Ed Greenberg told CBC News via email Thursday. "The result is that we have now strengthening our operating procedures in some key areas that were identified from what recently occurred."

The rail carrier says it has updated its safety procedures in three ways:

  • If it is necessary to leave a train unattended outside a terminal or yard, the locomotive will now be locked. This occurred already in some high-risk locations, but it will now be formally applied across the network.

  • Train brake-setting procedures have been strengthened to meet or exceed all regulations regarding brake setting.

  • All trains with tank cars containing regulated commodities will not be left unattended on main line tracks.

The carrier says it continues to "meet or exceed" all federal operating and safety regulations and rules, and Greenberg says the company routinely looks for ways to strengthen its safety policies. "We felt implementing additional safety measures at this time was the prudent step to take."

CP rival Canadian National also says it has "robust" train securement policies in place that rely on multiple lines of defence, spokesperson Mark Hallman told CBC News. They include the full application of air brakes throughout an entire train, in addition to hand brakes being applied to the lead locomotive.

Stopped CN trains have their reversers — a device which functions much like a gearstick on a car — removed, effectively keeping the train in neutral so that they can't be put into forward or reverse. CP says it also has a policy to remove reversers from locomotives.

And all doors and windows are locked on CN locomotives. "As part of its rigorous safety management approach, CN has already commenced a review of all train securement measures in the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy to further strengthen its safety policies," Hallman said.

2-man crews on all trains

The train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic had only one engineer on board, something only two rail carriers in Canada are permitted to do under federal regulations.

Hallman of CN told CBC on Thursday that the rail company uses two-man crews on all of its trains and rail lines. For CP's part, Greenberg says "CP has never used one-person crews to operate trains on our network. We have always had two-person crews."

For its part, the federal government says it's pleased to see Canada's rail carriers focusing squarely on ensuring safety protocols are as good as they can be in the wake of the tragedy. "I'm very pleased to see [CP] taking a look at theirs and … I spoke to CN this week and they're doing the same," new Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told CBC Montreal's Daybreak morning radio show on Thursday.

"If you're in the safety field … you should be taking a look at everything you do to ensure safe passage of passengers and goods on rail systems in Canada," Raitt said.