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Safety measures to blame for Lac-Megantic tragedy: report

Aug. 19, 2014, Lac-Megantic, Que. - The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says many factors contributed to the Lac-Megantic train derailment in 2013, including lax safety measures at the company that owned the runaway train.

August 19, 2014
By The Canadian Press

The TSB says Montreal,
Maine & Atlantic Railway had a weak safety culture and did not have
a functioning system to manage risks.

The agency is also
pointing a finger in its final report at Transport Canada, saying the
department did not audit MM&A often and thoroughly enough to ensure
it was effectively managing the risks in its operations.

Agency officials held a
news conference in Lac-Mégantic Tuesday morning to release the report
into the tragedy, which killed 47 people.

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TSB chair Wendy Tadros
says 18 factors played a role in the accident, including the fact that
about one-third of the derailed tanker cars had large breaches which
rapidly released vast quantities of highly volatile petroleum crude oil.

The disaster destroyed a swath of the community’s downtown and spewed millions of litres of crude oil into the environment.

It was sparked when
the train careened into the town shortly after 1 a.m. on July 6, 2013,
and jumped the tracks, exploding into fireballs that were spotted by
satellites in space.

People are still being
treated for post-traumatic stress, while efforts to rebuild are still
underway in the aftermath of what the safety board described as
potentially the worst disaster of its type in Canadian history.

In May, the Montreal,
Maine & Atlantic Canada Co. and three of its employees were charged
by Quebec prosecutors with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.

The accused are train
engineer Thomas Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and
Jean Demaitre, manager of train operations.

Class-action lawsuits are pending and there are also demands for an independent inquiry.

The TSB said at the
time of the derailment it would take months to investigate but took the
unusual step about two weeks later of recommending immediate changes to
rail safety.

It urged that dangerous goods should not be left unattended on a main track and that rail equipment be properly secured.

Transport Canada
issued directives on July 23, 2013, that at least two crew members must
work on trains that carry dangerous goods and that no locomotive
attached to one or more tank cars carrying dangerous goods can be left
unattended on a main track.

The Lac-Megantic train
had been left unattended by its sole crewman, its engineer, while he
rested for the night at a nearby hotel. Early reports said the train’s
brakes became disabled, allowing it to roll into the town.

The TSB said last year
as its investigation progressed that the crude oil carried by the train
was as volatile as gasoline but had been labelled as a less-dangerous
product similar to diesel or bunker crude.

Montreal, Maine &
Atlantic Railway, which had filed for bankruptcy protection, was sold in
January in a closed-door auction for $15.85 million. The buyer was
later revealed to be Railroad Acquisition Holdings, an affiliate of New
York-based Fortress Investment Group.

Government and industry have continued to tighten rail regulations since the tragedy.

The federal government
pledged in April to pull all old, rupture-prone tank cars, known as
DOT-111s, off Canada’s rails in the next few years.

Millions of dollars
have been pledged to rebuild Lac-Megantic. The federal and Quebec
governments have said they will split the cost.