Canadian Investigators Says Failed Brakes Led to Crash

The brakes on the train that crashed and burned in Quebec this month weren’t applied with enough force, Canadian investigators have found.

The braking on the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. train was “insufficient” to hold the 73 cars that were parked on a 1.2 percent downhill slope near Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the Transportation Safety Board said today in a statement.

“The train was not completely immobilized,” said Ed McCallum, a spokesman for the Ottawa-based agency. He said he was unable to give the number of brakes that were set on the train. “The number of brakes is important, but the quality is also important,” said McCallum.

The board is urging federal regulators at Transport Canada to review all rules governing how trains are secured and to look into operating procedures to make sure trains carrying dangerous goods are not left unsupervised on a main track, McCallum said.

The engineer responsible for the train may not have set enough hand brakes to secure it before he left for his hotel that evening, Edward Burkhardt, chief executive officer of Rail World Inc., which owns the railway, said last week.

Earlier this week, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Canadian National Railway Co., the nation’s two biggest railroads, said they would review and strengthen their safety measures as a result of the crash.

Testing Crude

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train rolled from its parking spot on July 6 into Lac-Megantic, creating a massive explosion that leveled much of the downtown. It was the worst rail disaster in Canada in more than a century. Quebec police today revised the estimated death toll to 47 from 50, according to Benoit Richard, spokesman for the Surete de Quebec.

Regulators are also testing crude from the freight train that crashed in Quebec. The Transportation Safety Board took samples this week, trying to determine what was in the oil as part of its investigation into the fire that followed the crash.

“We sampled the products and the goal there is to be sure of the real nature of the product in the tankers and to be able to explain the magnitude of the fire and the extent of the explosion,” McCallum said.

The samples, which were taken from multiple tanker cars, will take a few weeks to analyze, McCallum told reporters today in Lac-Megantic. McCallum declined to identify which substances the board is testing for.

U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller today asked the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, to review the impact of increased shale oil and gas development on transportation infrastructure. Production increases have “raised questions about the ability of existing infrastructure to safely transport these hazardous products, and the capacity of safety standards,” Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said in an e-mailed statement.

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