Canada toughens rail safety rules after Quebec disaster

Tue Jul 23, 2013 5:23pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren and Solarina Ho

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada beefed up its safety standards for railways on Tuesday, reacting to the Quebec train disaster earlier this month, and said that two "qualified persons" must run any train that hauls dangerous goods.

In an emergency directive, most of which takes effect immediately, the Transport Department also said that trains carrying dangerous goods must not be left unattended on a main track.

The July 6 Quebec disaster, in which 47 people died, occurred after a single engineer parked his train for the night on a main line uphill from the small town of Lac-Megantic.

The driverless train, consisting of five locomotives and 72 tanker cars full of crude oil, started rolling and accelerated into the center of the little lakeside town. There, it derailed and exploded into balls of fire, destroying the center of Lac-Megantic.

"The disaster brought to light several industry practices which have caused some concern," said Gerard McDonald, Transport Canada's assistant deputy minister of safety and security. "Given that, and with an abundance of precaution, we thought it would be prudent to implement these measures now."

McDonald told a briefing that the government could well impose more regulations on the railway industry.

The new directive is line with recommendations made last week by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, which has been investigating the cause of the crash, the deadliest rail accident in North America for more than 20 years.

Investigators are still searching for clues, but they have said the train's hand brakes are one focus of their probe.   Continued...

A firefighter stands close to the remains of a train wreckage in Lac Megantic July 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger