Transport Canada has issued an emergency directive requiring at least two crew members to work trains that transport dangerous goods.

It also says no locomotive attached to one or more loaded tank cars transporting dangerous goods can be left unattended on a main track.

The directives take effect immediately.

In addition, the department is giving rail operators five days to ensure that all unattended locomotives on a main track or sidings be protected from unauthorized entry into the cab.

The directives came just hours before a House of Commons committee planned to look at rail safety in light of the July 6 train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que. Tanker cars filled with oil exploded after a train began rolling and derailed in the town, claiming an estimated 47 lives.

The transport committee held an emergency meeting Tuesday to talk about rail regulations in general, and how to improve them.

New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, who sits on the committee, says she hopes MPs can at least find out why the federal government did not enact previously recommended regulations designed to improve rail safety.

Following the disaster, the federal Transportation Safety Board — which is still investigating — asked for changes in regulations governing rail traffic. Transport Canada responded Tuesday with the directives.

Rail operators are expected to ensure that:

  • Directional controls, commonly known as reversers, are removed from any unattended locomotives, preventing them from moving forward or backward, on a main track or sidings;
  • Their company's special instructions on hand brakes are applied to any locomotive attached to one or more cars left unattended for more than an hour on a main track or sidings;
  • The automatic brake is set in full-service position and the independent brake is fully applied for any locomotive attached to one or more cars left unattended for one hour or less on a main track or sidings.

The emergency directives will be in place until December. In the meantime, Transport Canada will ask railways to develop formal rules that reflect the directives.

"The disaster brought to light several industry practices which have caused some concern," said Gerard McDonald, assistant deputy minister of safety and security at Transport Canada.

"Given that and with an abundance of precaution, we thought it would be prudent to implement these measures now."

However, McDonald refused to discuss what may have gone wrong in Lac-Mégantic.

"I'm not going to speculate on the causes of the accident. I don't know what they are," he said.

Transport Canada says it has been in contact with the railway industry and the Railway Association of Canada to work on safety of the rail system.

Fifty organizations from across Canada are calling for several changes, including a ban on shipping oil in older DOT-111A tanker cars and a broad review of all means of transporting oil, including pipelines.