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Rail News: Safety

Quebec derailment fallout: Efforts to improve rail safety emerge in Canada, U.S.


Transport Canada yesterday announced it issued an emergency directive aimed at improving rail safety in the wake of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway derailment that occurred July 6 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

Although the accident's cause remains unknown, Transport Canada is trying to build upon the safety advisories it received last week from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and further enhance existing rail safety and security measures, Transport Canada officials said in a prepared statement.

Effective immediately, all Canadian railroads are required to ensure that:
• no locomotive attached to one or more loaded tank cars transporting hazardous materials is operated with fewer than two qualified persons on a main track or siding;
• no locomotive attached to one or more loaded haz-mat tank cars is left unattended on a main track;
• all unattended controlling locomotives on a main track and sidings are protected from unauthorized entry into the cab;
• directional controls are removed from any unattended locomotives, preventing them from moving forward or backward, on a main track or siding;
• individual special instructions on hand brakes are applied to any locomotive attached to one or more cars that are left unattended for more than one hour on a main track or sidings; and
• the automatic brake is set in full-service position and the independent brake is fully applied for any locomotive attached to one or more cars that are left unattended for one hour or less on a main track or sidings.

Transport Canada officials have been in contact with rail industry stakeholders, and in particular with CN, Canadian Pacific and Railway Association of Canada executives, to jointly promote the continued safety of Canada's rail system, Transport Canada officials said.

CN plans to adjust its safety practices — including train securement policies for unattended trains that are anchored on multiple safety defenses — to comply with the directive, said President and Chief Executive Officer Claude Mongeau.

"The government's new safety rules will help to reduce the risk of unintended train movements that can lead to catastrophic accidents such as the one in Lac-Mégantic," he said.

Although CN wasn't involved in the movement of the train that derailed, company officials also are trying to learn about the accident firsthand and determine the safety implications for CN, Mongeau said during the Class I's earnings conference on Monday. CN officials are reenacting "every aspect of what could have gone wrong in this highly unusual accident" and are reviewing the Class I's policies accordingly, he said.

"I think it's fair to assume that it will take a few months for the TSB to complete its investigation, but we are not waiting and have initiated a fact-based and rigorous risk assessment, with a view to further improve our solid safety record," said Mongeau.

The accident has prompted a call for improved rail safety in the United States, too. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday announced he sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation urging the agency to require freight railroads to draft a plan to retrofit or phase-out "DOT-111" tank cars, which were involved in the Quebec derailment.

The tank cars "have proven to be flawed, out of date and a factor in hazardous material spills during derailments," said Schumer in a prepared statement. The Quebec derailment in combination with increased crude-oil shipments along New York railways to the Port of Albany creates an urgency for a corresponding increase in freight-rail safety measures in the state, which must be implemented through the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulatory processes later this year, he said.

DOT-111 tank cars are not pressurized like DOT-105 or DOT-112 cars that have thicker shells and heads, and are less prone to breaching during a derailment, said Schumer, who also wrote a letter to the Association of American Railroads urging its cooperation in retrofitting or phasing-out DOT-111 cars.

"The DOT-111 tank car has proven particularly prone to spills, tears and fires in the event of a derailment, and it's simply unacceptable for New York's communities to face that risk when we know thicker, tougher cars could keep us safer," said Schumer. "This is not to demonize freight rail or the significant economic activity the increased shipments mean for the Port of Albany and New York rail, but we have to protect that investment by limiting the risk for major damage in the event of a derailment."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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