Oil explosion in Quebec train crash 'abnormal', investigator says

Thu Aug 1, 2013 2:42pm EDT
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By Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - As investigators seek reasons for the deadly train crash in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last month and the huge "abnormal" fire it caused, they are focusing on the nature of the fuel cargo as well as the brakes, tanker cars, and locomotive, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said on Thursday.

TSB officials told a news conference that its investigation into the July 6 railway accident, North America's worst in two decades, would last for months and that it was too early to draw conclusions.

They raised doubts about the nature of the petroleum cargo on the runaway train, which was listed as hauling 50,000 barrels of crude oil when it derailed and smashed into the center of the small lakeside town near the Maine border, exploding in a blast that killed 47 people.

"We want to make sure that the dangerous goods that were involved here were properly described, properly packaged in the right tankers, and we're going to check into all those things," said lead TSB investigator Donald Ross.

"It was shipped as a class 3, packing group 3, flammable liquid, and some of the fire characteristics didn't appear to be similar to that," Ross said.

Class 3 hazardous materials include a wide range of petroleum products, from thick, tarry crude oil to very thin and volatile jet fuel. There are three packing groups within class 3, depending on the product being shipped.

Ed Belkaloul, a TSB official in charge of rail operations in Quebec and the Maritimes region, said: "It would seem that the crude oil reacted in an abnormal way."

The TSB said a lab analysis of samples from tanker cars will help answer questions about the ferocity of the explosions and the fire. But officials stressed that the fuel analysis is only one of numerous tests they are conducting.   Continued...

A worker walks near the railway track on the site of the train wreck in Lac Megantic, July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Ryan Remiorz/Pool