Canada investigators want rule changes after deadly rail crash

Fri Jul 19, 2013 3:13pm EDT
 
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By Julie Gordon

(Reuters) - Canadian investigators issued their first recommendations on Friday after a devastating train wreck in Quebec, urging that trains hauling dangerous goods not be left unattended, and pushing for stricter guidelines on railway braking systems.

Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigators probing the July 6 disaster in the lakeside town of Lac-Megantic said the "braking force" applied to the train, which was hauling 72 tanker cars of crude oil, was insufficient to hold it in place.

The train was operated by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA), which is controlled by Rail World Inc, a privately held rail management and investment firm based outside Chicago.

The train had been parked for the night on a main line uphill from the town. Unmanned, it rolled down the track, and derailed and exploded in the center of Lac-Megantic.

An estimated 50 people were killed in North America's worst train accident in more than 20 years, and the town center was destroyed.

TSB investigator Ed Belkaloul did not say how many hand brakes had been set when the train was parked. But he noted there was "enormous variability" in the strength of the brakes, which are located on individual rail cars and operated by manually turning a large wheel that sets the brake shoes beneath the train.

"If you look on your car, if your brake shoes are finished, even if you set them, it won't give you anything," he said. "Same here. The number of brakes is important, but the quality of the braking is also important."

General braking instructions for railways, dating from 1997, state that operators must use "sufficient brakes," and test them by attempting to pull the train back and forth - typically using the engine - to ensure the brakes will hold in place.   Continued...

 
A firefighter and an emergency crew work on the site of the train wreck in Lac Megantic, July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Ryan Remiorz/Pool