Rail firm poorly audited before Canada disaster: report

Tue Aug 19, 2014 3:17pm EDT
 
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By Allison Lampert

LAC-MÉGANTIC Quebec (Reuters) - The Canadian government did not adequately audit the railroad company at the center of the Lac-Mégantic crude tanker disaster, which last year killed 47 people, an independent federal agency said on Tuesday, as it called for tougher scrutiny of the rail industry.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which issued its final report on what was one of North America's deadliest rail accidents in recent memory, said a similar catastrophe could happen again unless more measures are put into place to boost rail safety.

Train shipments of crude oil have skyrocketed in Canada and the United States in recent years in the absence of sufficient pipeline capacity to transport the oil.

The TSB called for more thorough audits of safety management systems and said more physical defenses, such as wheel chocks or modern braking technology, are needed to prevent runaway trains.

The disaster occurred on July 6, 2013 after a single engineer parked his train or oil tankers for the night on a main line uphill from the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The train rolled downhill after the brakes failed and it derailed, exploding in balls of fire and flattening the center of the town.

The TSB said Transport Canada, the federal transportation ministry, had failed to stamp out abuses at Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd (MMA), the now insolvent company that operated the train.

TSB Chair Wendy Tadros said MMA had a weak safety culture, trained its employees poorly, skimped on maintenance and did not have a functioning safety management system.

"Transport Canada knew about some of the problems at MMA, but the follow-up wasn't always there. Instead, the focus was on making sure railway companies had a safety management system, not how they were using it," she said.   Continued...

 
Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) chair Wendy Tadros speaks during a news conference at the Lac-Megantic Golf Club in Lac-Megantic, August 19, 2014.  REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger