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Quebec oil train crash blamed on weak brake force

07.19.2013  | 

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the country's main investigator of rail accidents, said that its initial investigation has determined that the amount of braking force applied to the train that was left outside Lac-Megantic was insufficient on the specific grade where the locomotive was parked.

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By DAVID GEORGE-COSH and KAREN JOHNSON

TORONTO -- Canadian investigators looking into the deadly train derailment and explosion that decimated a small Quebec town earlier this month said Friday that they believed there weren't enough brakes applied to the train when it was parked unattended before it ran away.

In its first public statement on the possible cause of the accident, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the country's main investigator of rail accidents, said that its initial investigation has determined that the amount of braking force applied to the train that was left outside Lac-Megantic was insufficient on the specific grade where the locomotive was parked.

The TSB said it issued an advisory to Canada's transportation department to review its rules on brakes. It also issued a notice that trains carrying dangerous goods are not to be left unattended on a main track, a move that will force many Canadian operators to revise their procedures.

TSB investigators have already searched through at least 22 tankers and have sent samples of the train's crude-oil cargo to its headquarters in Ottawa for further analysis. A question still outstanding is what specifically ignited the train's crude, which is much more stable than other petroleum products like gasoline.

The Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Inc. train -- five locomotives and 72 tanker cars carrying crude oil -- derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic earlier this month and triggered a series of explosions. Authorities have said that 50 people are either dead or missing and presumed dead.

MM&A, a unit of Rail World Inc., has blamed the accident on the train's engineer, saying he didn't set the right number of hand brakes. The union representing the engineer defended his safety record. He hasn't spoken publicly since the accident.


Dow Jones Newswires



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Wade Pan
07.23.2013

It's so typical for the company to blame the operator in incidents. Very rarely does the fault reside only with the operator.

It'd be interesting to hear what TSB find as the root cause.
Was there a procedure that the engineer failed to follow or was the engineer distracted?
If the engineer was distracted, few rules or procedures can prevent this sort of incident - you need to then look to the awareness/behavioural aspects of employees.
What other means of protection did MM&A design to identify and manage these types of risks?

Panos Mitsopoulos
07.22.2013

The parking areas for such heavy-loaded trains should be only constructed on a slightly convex-shaped (not concave-shaped) ground, formed by adequate earthworks, so that a state of stable equilibrium is established with the minimal braking-force requirements or even without brakes. That's the way that I would only allow a train to park near a town, as a "Greek thinker".

Peter Ferner
07.22.2013

Overheated brakes are a potential source of ignition.

Simon Richards
07.22.2013

I find it incredible to believe that the braking systems on these trains are not fail safe. Are the wagons not fitted with air or vacuum brakes?

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