Montreal

Transport Canada warns of 'urgent' need for repairs on Lac-Mégantic line

Transport Canada is flagging safety concerns about the rail line that runs between Farnham, Que., and Lac-Mégantic, six years after the derailment that left 47 dead.

Citizen group says rail safety should be more in the hands of the government, not companies

Regional railway inspector Jean-René Gagnon sent a report in May 2019 to Central Maine and Quebec Railway (CMQ), notifying them of numerous hazards on the rail line. (Submitted by Robert Bellefleur)

Transport Canada is flagging safety concerns about the rail line that runs between Farnham, Que., and Lac-Mégantic, six years after the derailment that left 47 dead.

Inspecting the line with an ultrasound vehicle, Transport Canada detected 115 defective rails in 2015. By 2018, it had registered 253.

Regional railway inspector Jean-René Gagnon sent a report in May 2019 to Central Maine and Quebec Railway (CMQ), notifying them of "several urgent" issues.

"The increasing number of defective rails every year shows a heightened risk of derailment," Gagnon said in the report, obtained by Radio-Canada.

Transport Canada issued a notice on its website stating the defects were visible and ordered the CMQ increase its own ultrasonic inspections.

The rail company has since "implemented appropriate measures, by undertaking repairs and applying speed restrictions," Transport Canada spokesperson Annie Joannette said in an email Friday. 

She said companies are responsible for the safety of their infrastructure and equipment, but that the government department conducts about 30,000 inspections annually and takes enforcement action when necessary. 

'Take back rail inspection'

The Transport Canada notice highlights the root of the problem with Canada's rail safety standards, according to members of a local rail safety advocacy group.

They say posting notices online and sending reports to railway companies leaves the power in the company's hands.

"Companies are just self-ruling with rail safety," Gilbert Carette, a member of the Lac-Mégantic Coalition for Rail Safety, said on CBC Radio's Daybreak Montreal.

"We're pushing and asking the government to take back rail inspection."

Carrette lives near the railway. He said seeing broken or worn-out sections brings back painful memories of the disaster. 

Robert Bellefleur, another member of the same group, also said the report backs up the need for new safety measures.

Robert Bellefleur, spokesperson for the Lac-Mégantic Coalition for Rail Safety, says the federal and provincial governments need to do more to improve safety in the town. (Radio-Canada)

"Transport Canada did an inspection, identified risk factors, asked the company to repair them and the type of repair they did just camouflages the problem," he said.

CMQ did not immediately return a request for comment from CBC News.

Joannette wrote that the next inspection of the railway by Transport Canada is scheduled for the fall, between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31. 

An unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil ran away and derailed, resulting in the fire and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013. (CBC)

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Julie Morin said the report is further evidence of the need to build a rail bypass around the town.

"Yes, there are worries and it's not just Lac-Mégantic," she said. "For me, it's all the municipalities of Quebec that are crossed by trains."

In 2018, the federal and provincial governments approved a $133-million project to build a new track that would bypass the community.

Quebec's environmental review board, known as the BAPE, began public hearings in June on the project.

Based on a report from Radio-Canada and files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Daybreak

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