Lac-Mégantic investigators seek urgent rail safety review

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada issues two urgent rail safety letters to Transport Canada as five more victims are identified in the deadly train disaster.

TSB urges review of rules surrounding securing of cars, dangerous goods

TSB issues call for railway rule changes

9 years ago
Duration 2:58
The Transportation Safety Board has issued a preliminary finding into the Lac Megantic train disaster, saying insufficient brakes were applied to the train.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has issued two urgent safety letters to Transport Canada as part of its continuing investigation into the deadly runaway train derailment and explosions in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

The first advisory relates to the securing of equipment and trains left unattended.

The 72-car train involved in the Lac-Mégantic incident was unmanned when it rolled down a hill and derailed.

The TSB investigation has determined the braking force applied wasn’t enough to hold the train on the 1.2 per cent descending slope where it had been parked for the night.

Transport Canada late Friday confirmed it does not approve or give any specific guidance to Canada's rail companies on how many brakes must be applied for parked freight trains.

"Transport Canada does not validate the special instructions of a railway company," Transport Canada spokesperson Kelly James told CBC News in an emailed statement. 

"It is the responsibility of a railway company to establish their special instructions and to ensure that they meet the requirements of the Canadian Rail Operating Rules (CROR). A company may voluntarily impose more restrictive procedures than the CROR require. During routine inspections TC monitors whether the special instructions by the company are being met."

This admission flies in the face of assertions made earlier this week by Transport Canada after repeated questioning by CBC News about the working of Rule 112 contained in the CROR's (Canadian Railway Operating Rules), which demands railways ensure "sufficient" numbers of brakes be applied to secure a train.

Earlier this week, James had stated that "the rules provide specific instructions for the use of hand brakes to prevent the train from moving when equipment is not in use. In addition, the rules specify that the hand brakes need to be fully tested before they can be used to secure equipment."

On Friday afternoon, the agency appeared to retreat from this position acknowledging that the regulator does not approve company policies and simply trusts companies to employ their own best practices to keep parked trains from running away.

Before Transport Canada's announcement, the TSB had asked it to review the Canadian Rail Operating Rules that cover securing equipment as well as the special instructions by railways to further safeguard against runaway trains.

Train disaster linked to other accidents: TSB

The TSB said this issue is not new or unique to the situation in Lac-Mégantic.

"There's a link between this accident and others that we've investigated such as the one which occurred in Dorée, Que., north of Sept-Îles, in December 2011, which also [concerned] the security of trains on grades," TSB official Ed Belkaloul said at a news conference this morning.

In that case, air brakes on the train were released and it started to move because an insufficient number of hand brakes were applied.

The rule in question (CROR Rule 112):

"When equipment is left at any point a sufficient number of hand brakes must be applied to prevent it from moving. Special instructions will indicate the minimum hand brake requirements for all locations where equipment is left. If equipment is left on a siding, it must be coupled to other equipment if any on such track unless it is necessary to provide separation at a public crossing at grade or elsewhere.

"Before relying on the retarding force of the hand brake(s), whether leaving equipment or riding equipment to rest, the effectiveness of the hand brake(s) must be tested by fully applying the hand brake(s) and moving the cut of cars slightly to ensure sufficient retarding force is present to prevent the equipment from moving. When leaving a cut of cars secured, and after completion of this test, the cut should be observed while pulling away to ensure slack action has settled and that the cars remain in place."

The TSB said they are still investigating whether the braking issue in Lac-Mégantic was related to an insufficient number of hand brakes applied or if the brakes themselves were faulty.

Investigators have interviewed the engineer, other employees of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, as well as crash witnesses, Belkaloul said. They're also reviewing evidence gathered from the scene, analysis of the tankers and the train's black box, which was recovered after the crash.

The railway involved in the 2011 incident, QNSLR, and MM&A are the only two permitted to run in Canada with a single operator.

No derailment or injuries occurred in the Dorée incident.

The TSB officials also said they were looking into what role the single-man operation may have played in the crash.

Dangerous goods

The second advisory relates to securing trains carrying dangerous goods.

"Given the importance of the safe movement of dangerous goods and the risk associated with unattended equipment, we are asking Transport Canada to review all railway operating procedures to ensure that trains carrying dangerous goods are not left unattended on the main track," TSB lead investigator Donald Ross said.

After a collision between two trains, one unattended, in B.C. in 2002, the TSB alerted Transport Canada to the fact that railway instructions don't always require that the doors and windows of locomotives be locked and secured.

Transport Canada determined that stricter regulations surrounding the securing of locomotives weren't warranted. 

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The TSB investigation in Lac-Mégantic found that MM&A plan for unmanned trains was to leave them on the main track with an unlocked cab beside a public highway where it could have been accessed. 

"As this accident has demonstrated, accidents involving trains carrying dangerous goods can have tragic consequences,"  the advisory reads.

"Given the importance to the safe movement of dangerous goods and the vulnerability of unattended equipment, TC may wish to consider reviewing all railway operating procedures to ensure that trains carrying [dangerous goods] are not left unattended on the main track."

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who yesterday told CBC that everyone involved in rail safety in Canada should be reviewing their procedures, thanked the TSB for its recommendations.

A statement from Raitt's office said the minister has directed Transport Canada officials to review the advisories on an expedited basis.

More victims identified

Earlier Friday, the names of five more victims of the blast, identified through forensic testing, were released.

The bodies were among the 42 recovered from the scene in the core of the town in the aftermath of the July 6 blast. The latest victims to be named are:

  • Roger Paquet, 61.
  • Jo-Annie Lapointe, 20.
  • Guy Bolduc, 43.
  • Andrée-Anne Sévigny, 26.
  • Madame Diane Bizier, 46.

Five more people remain unaccounted for and are presumed dead.

The recovery and identification process of the victims has been hampered by a number of factors in the nearly two weeks since the deadly train derailment and explosions.

The force of the blast all but levelled the town's core, and dangerous conditions around that site have limited what work can be done and who can get to the area.

At least five investigations are continuing into the cause and culpability in the accident.