Canada responded to a deadly train explosion in Quebec by setting new emergency requirements for railway companies, including having at least two employees operating shipments of dangerous goods.
Trains that carry such goods can no longer be left unattended on a main track, the Transport Department said in a statement from Ottawa today. The rules also outline stronger policies about setting brakes and guarding against unauthorized entry to locomotives. Additional measures are a “distinct possibility,” Gerard McDonald, an official at Transport Canada, told reporters.
“The disaster brought to light several industry practices which have caused some concern,” McDonald, assistant deputy minister for safety and security at Transport Canada, told reporters on a conference call. “Given that, with an abundance of preoccupation, we thought it should be prudent to implement these measures now.”
The temporary directive came as investigators seek clues into what caused a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train loaded with crude oil to roll from its parking spot into Lac-Megantic, Quebec on July 6, creating a massive explosion that killed about 50 and leveled much of the downtown. It was the worst rail disaster in Canada in more than a century.
The train, which had a crew of one, was left unattended overnight near the town. McDonald declined to comment on the investigation of the crash.
The emergency directive will expire in December, and the government will ask railways to develop new permanent rules before then that reflect the directives announced today, McDonald said.
According to the statement from Transport Canada, the government has already been in contact with the nation’s two biggest railroads, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Canadian National Railway Co., about the new rules.
“Transport Canada inspectors are at Lac-Megantic determining whether there has been non-compliance with regulatory requirements,” the department said in its statement. “The majority of railways maintain a culture of safety and security, as shown by the notable decline in derailments and train accidents over the past few years.”
Canadian National Chief Executive Claude Mongeau said in a statement today the new measures will reduce the risks of unintended train movements that could lead to accidents. Canadian Pacific said July 18 it has strengthened safety measures after its own evaluation.
“Canadian Pacific welcomes Transport Canada’s Directive, and as a result of the recent steps we took to strengthen our railway’s operating procedures we are in full compliance of what was announced by the federal agency,” spokesman Ed Greenberg said today by telephone. “CP is prepared to work with Transport Canada in looking at any future steps that will make the industry safer.”
While welcoming the new measures, opposition lawmakers said more needs to be done, including the phasing out of DOT-111 tank cars used on the MM&A train. Olivia Chow, a lawmaker for the main opposition New Democratic Party, also said she wants lawmakers to seek “operational protocol” documents used by railway companies.
“Canadians need to know that the trains coming through their neighborhoods are safe,” Chow told reporters today in Ottawa.
A parliamentary committee that oversees transport issues voted unanimously to “conduct a study on rail safety when more findings of the Transportation Safety Board investigation into the disaster at Lac-Megantic are available.” Parliament is currently in its summer recess.
Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said today the city plans to sue MM&A after the railroad stopped paying contractors hired to perform cleanup work. Lac-Megantic has had to pay crews more than C$4 million ($3.9 million) to allow for work to continue, Roy-Laroche told reporters today in a televised news conference. The city will sue MM&A unless the railroad turns over documents -- such as a list of contractors and copies of contracts -- within 48 hours, she said.
“Any delay in the cleanup and the recovery of oil causes a serious prejudice to the city and its citizens,” Roy-Laroche said. “I hope MM&A will meet its commitments and behave like a good corporate citizen.”
Clean-up crews in Lac-Megantic are still working to recover 5.7 million liters (1.5 million gallons) of crude oil from the spill, Quebec’s environment ministry said yesterday in a press release. The train contained about 7.2 million liters of crude at the time of the derailment, the government said.