Lac-Mégantic and regulatory aftermath

Written by  //  October 21, 2016  //  Canada, Transportation  //  No comments

Transport Canada Rail Safety

Quebec says Canadian Pacific directly responsible for Lac-Mégantic damages
Canadian Pacific Railway is directly responsible for damages caused when a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, according to new allegations recently filed in court by the Quebec government.
The railroad was responsible for the crude oil from the moment it picked up the shipment in the United States until the product’s final scheduled destination in New Brunswick, the province alleges.
Quebec is seeking to modify its $409-million lawsuit against CP (TSX:CP) to reflect the new allegations and will argue its case in court Nov. 8.
In July 2013, an unmanned train owned by Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. (MMA) and running on the company’s tracks derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people and destroying part of the Quebec town’s downtown core.
Related: Years later, Lac-Mégantic residents grapple with mental aftershocks of tragedy
Related: Lac-Mégantic report: 18 things that went wrong
From the archives: One year later in Lac-Mégantic ‘everyone has their ghosts’
12 October
Increasing safety of Canadians by investing in rail improvements
The Government of Canada is significantly increasing its investment, and expanding eligibility criteria to reduce injuries and fatalities, and increase public safety around the railway system….
The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, today announced the new Rail Safety Improvement Program with over $55 million in funding. This new program increases overall funding, expands the list of eligible recipients and broadens the scope of projects that could be funded to enhance rail safety.
Funding will support safety improvements on rail property, along rail lines and at road-rail grade crossings such as flashing lights, bells and/or gates; the use of innovative technologies; outreach, promotional awareness, educational activities and public service announcements, research and studies; as well as the closures of grade crossings that present safety concerns.

2013

23 August
Mayors urge Ottawa to act swiftly on rail safety
Municipalities should be included in risk assesments, advisory group says
The federal government must keep municipalities in the loop when improving railway safety standards, Canada’s mayors say.
“Our main mandate is to make sure that the railway system will be safe,” said Claude Dauphin, head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) national municipal rail safety working group, following a meeting in Montreal on Friday.
With the recent train derailments in Lac-Mégantic, Que. and Calgary, Alta, in mind, the group urged the federal government to move “swiftly” on three priorities:

  • Help equip and support municipal first responders, and keep them informed of the type of dangerous goods being transported by rail through their communities in order to help plan for emergencies.
  • Ensure federal and industry policies and regulations address municipalities’ rail safety concerns and include those concerns in risk assessment and policy development on rail safety.
  • Solidify the regulation of third-party liability insurance for rail companies so the costs of rail disasters are not borne by local taxpayers.

15 August
Lac-Megantic Disaster: Canadian Pacific Railroad Rejects Quebec’s Demand For Money
(Canadian Press) Canadian Pacific says it holds no financial responsibility for the Lac-Megantic rail disaster and has rejected a legal demand by the Quebec government that it help pay for the cleanup in the devastated town.
The railway announced Thursday that it will appeal the province’s legal order.
The news came one day after the provincial government added CPR (TSX:CP) to a list of defendants that it says are responsible for picking up the tab for the massive mop-up in Lac-Megantic, where a train derailed on July 6 and dumped millions of litres of crude oil into the environment.
25 July
Lac-Megantic Explosion: MMA Offices Raided By Police
Quebec provincial police have raided an office belonging to the railway involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster, adding to a growing pile of legal concerns for the U.S. company.
Investigators searched for clues Thursday inside the Farnham branch of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway as part of their ongoing criminal probe into the deadly July 6 derailment.
23 July
New rail safety rules issued after Lac-Mégantic disaster
Emergency directives in place until December, formal rules to come
(CBC) Transport Canada has issued an emergency directive requiring at least two crew members to work trains that transport dangerous goods.
It also says no locomotive attached to one or more loaded tank cars transporting dangerous goods can be left unattended on a main track.
The directives take effect immediately.
In addition, the department is giving rail operators five days to ensure that all unattended locomotives on a main track or sidings be protected from unauthorized entry into the cab.
The directives came just hours before a House of Commons committee planned to look at rail safety in light of the July 6 train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que. Tanker cars filled with oil exploded after a train began rolling and derailed in the town, claiming an estimated 47 lives.
22 July
Federal government promises $60M to help rebuild Lac-Mégantic
Environment ministry says 5.7 million litres of oil abord train dumped into environment
(CBC) Of the $60 million, $25 million will go to refunding the province of Quebec for part of its $60 million contribution to the town rocked by the July 6 train disaster.
The other $35 million is earmarked for helping Lac-Mégantic recover economically.
The province pledged $60 million to the town earlier this month; that brings the combined total of provincial and federal aid to $95 million.
19 July
Lac Megantic after explosion Probe of Lac-Mégantic train disaster turns to composition of oil
(Globe &Mail) Federal officials probing the Lac-Mégantic disaster are testing the chemical composition of crude oil carried by the runaway train as they seek to answer the crucial question of what triggered the unusual and devastating explosion after the derailment. …
Canadian authorities have impounded the rail cars to take “a huge number of samples of oil.” He said the investigators and officials in the rail and oil industries “are asking how come there were explosions here. Crude does not blow up.”
People familiar with the investigation said the TSB is examining the composition of the oil that fuelled the explosion.
Industry sources said there are several possibilities. One is whether the crude, which came from the Bakken oil region of North Dakota, contained volatile chemicals. A possible scenario is that additives were intentionally combined with the crude oil to speed up the transfer of the syrupy oil, common for pipelines but rare in the rail industry. Another possibility is that the tanker cars had chemical contaminants from a previous shipment. Another question is whether the oil contained high levels of flammable hydrogen sulphide gas, which is sometimes present in Bakken oil.
TSB says Transport Canada making little progress in fixing safety oversight

The Real Tragedy of Lac-Mégantic — Self-regulated railway industry was a disaster waiting to happen.
(The Tyee) Rail oversight slammed in 2007
Behind the bickering over the latest round of cuts to railroad regulation and safety inspections, however, is a broader issue. In 1999 the Liberal government of the day deregulated Canada’s railroads by amending the Railway Safety Act to implement Safety Management Systems (SMS). This change eliminated the role of Transport Canada in the oversight of railroads, and passed the onus onto the individual companies to regulate themselves.
A 2007 report from the Canada Safety Council raised the alarm about the dangers of this approach and called Canada’s railway network a disaster waiting to happen, arguing that the government should return oversight to Transport Canada.
Deregulation “allows rail companies to regulate themselves, removing the federal government’s ability to protect Canadians and their environment, and allowing the industry to hide critical safety information from the public.”
The report found major safety issues and frequent derailments, and even spills of oil and other hazardous substances, were common. One rail company, believed to be CN, was singled out for having “a truly dismal safety record.”
The report’s dire warning that the status quo would lead to disaster seems eerily prescient in Lac-Mégantic, and as opposition parties try to hang blame for the disaster on a cut of $3.1 million, the better question remains unasked: is deregulation, and its attendant lack of oversight, the true culprit?
This report is far from a lone voice in the wilderness; as a release by environmental advocacy group Greenpeace points out, there have been many warnings, especially when it comes to transporting oil. (9 July)

Transport Canada mum on rail safety rules
Companies won’t share details following Lac-Mégantic rail disaster
(CBC) Transport Canada won’t say what the minimum requirements are for making sure a parked train won’t roll away and it won’t disclose the rules set by the rail companies for keeping unattended trains with potentially dangerous goods stationary.
The CBC asked Transport Canada to clarify the rules for tying down a train a few days after the Lac Megantic tragedy. More than two days later, the response ignored the specific request for minimum requirements and referred to the Canadian Rail Operating Rules.
17 July
Raitt promises to help Lac-Megantic with reconstruction
Newly minted Transport Minister Lisa Raitt offered no details on financial aid
(CBC) The federal government is promising to help Lac-Mégantic in its reconstruction efforts, but hasn’t said yet how much financial aid it will contribute.
Newly appointed Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said Wednesday, while visiting the small community in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, that she was there to get a first-hand look at the devastation and better understand its scope. … Raitt explained that the difficulty lies in quantifying what the needs are and that she would be meeting with the mayor of Lac-Mégantic and other officials to get a better grasp for the scope of the devastation. …
Colette Roy-Laroche, the mayor of Lac-Mégantic, said on Wednesday that she would ask the federal minister for financial aid to help with various infrastructure projects.
Raitt, who speaks little French, was accompanied by Christian Paradis, the member of Parliament for Mégantic–L’Érable, Que., who until Monday was the minister responsible for Quebec.
“This tragedy moved so many of us across the country, but so has the strength and the courage of the people in this community and those who are working to respond to its aftermath,” Raitt said.
“You can be sure that the federal government will continue to assist the province and the municipality with what they need to help the community. Both are acting with skill and compassion and should continue to lead the response.”
Raitt was also accompanied by Conservative MP Larry Miller, who serves as chairman of the Commons transport committee.
CN and CP tighten safety rules after Lac-Mégantic disaster
Canada’s dominant freight train companies say they don’t use 1-man crews
Canada’s two dominant railway operators are tightening their safety standards after the train disaster in Lac-Mégantic that killed dozens of people and devastated the community.
Canadian Pacific Railway has updated its general operating instructions in the wake of the July 6 disaster, when an unattended 72-car Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train carrying oil derailed, caught fire and exploded, leveling the city’s downtown core in the process.
Major Oil Companies implicated in Lac-Mégantic Class Action
CNW/ – The class action proceeding (motion for authorization) issued on Monday morning relating to the Lac-Mégantic train derailment and subsequent devastation suffered by the community was amended yesterday to include further defendants, including World Fuel Services Corp., Dakota Plains Holdings, Irving Oil Limited, and their subsidiaries. World Fuel Services is a publicly traded U.S. corporation and Irving Oil is one of Canada’s largest oil companies.
The claims made against the newly added defendants include the allegation that they failed to ensure that the highly flammable contents of the DOT-111 tankers that derailed in Lac-Mégantic’s downtown area in the early morning hours of July 6, 2013 were properly contained and safely transported. The Motion to authorize was amended to reflect the fact that the liability for the accident is spread across a broader network of involved corporations. As the facts develop additional entities may be implicated.
17 July
Lac-Megantic rail tragedy prompts special inspection of tracks across Maine
(Postmedia) As Canadian rail advocates and transport regulators continue to grapple with Lac-Megantic’s derailment horror, worries expressed by American lawmakers across the nearby Quebec-Maine border have prompted a special inspection by U.S. Federal Railroad Administration officials of the line that would have taken the doomed crude-oil shipment through Maine en route to a refinery in neighbouring New Brunswick.
Beginning Thursday, the U.S. officials will conduct visual inspections along the 440-kilometre stretch of track in that state owned by the Maine-based Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. An automatic track inspection car will also be sent along the company’s lines throughout the state.
16 July
Brake-Related Failures Dog Freight Railroads
Industry Has Improved Its Safety Record but Expects More Scrutiny After Quebec Tragedy
(WSJ) The deadly train accident in Quebec earlier this month highlighted a lingering problem for freight railroads: brakes that aren’t set properly or that fail.
All freight-train accidents in the U.S., including those that are brake-related, have declined steadily over the past decade.
But a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data found that failures involving brakes still cause dozens of serious accidents annually, including several in recent years at Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Inc.
15 July
As Lac-Mégantic cleans up, scope of environmental devastation is still murky

An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 litres of oil spilled into Lac-Mégantic, according to Quebec’s Environment Minister, after a train carrying light crude derailed and crashed into the downtown core on July 6. As investigators work to determine what caused the crash, a parallel effort is under way to skim the oil from the lake and river system in an effort to prevent the spill from turning into an ecological – as well as a human – disaster.
Elizabeth May: Trains, pipelines and disasters – there’s  much good sense in Ms May’s post including these points:

  • Trains are generally speaking a very safe way to transport goods – as long as they are properly regulated.  On a percentage basis, pipelines have far more accidents (leaks) than trains.  True, no pipeline accident with bitumen and diluents (dilbit) or with crude or processed oil, could have an accident with so much immediate loss of life.  But that is not actually an argument for pipelines.  It is an argument for regulating pipelines and trains so that the risk of accident is reduced.
  • Municipal governments have a right to know what is moving through their towns.  Hazardous cargo should never be left unattended and should be (as far as is possible) diverted from town centres.
  • It strikes me as bizarre that when discussing terrorist threats no scenario is so far-fetched that law enforcement and the public purse should not be engaged to avert miniscule risks.  But in our day to day lives, more probable and larger risks are ignored because they fall under an area of economic-profitability.

14 July
The equation of a disaster: what went wrong in Lac-Mégantic
(Globe & Mail) After the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train pulled into the Nantes station in Quebec, the engineer had some basic duties to perform to secure the cargo of crude oil – but an unlikely combination of events led to the deadly derailment in Lac-Mégantic.
The eastbound train had stayed put on stopovers in the past, though details about the routine on previous trips are unknown. This time, however, there was a fire on one of the locomotives to disrupt the air-brake system and MM&A says the engineer didn’t set enough handbrakes on the tank cars. Also, there also wasn’t another knowledgeable employee on hand to help lock down the train. Combined, the sequence of events doomed the MM&A train to run away unattended, say industry, union and safety experts.
11 July
As Lac-Mégantic recovers, businesses push to get trains and economy rolling again
(Globe & Mail) Proponents of the plan are asking for the police line to be pushed back – a move that highlights the rail system’s central role in the small Quebec town, at once a source of grief and hope for economic recovery.
Railway head’s Lac-Mégantic visit panned by PR experts
(CBC) Ed Burkhardt’s appearance in devastated Quebec town a ‘tutorial in what not to do in a crisis’
Edward Burkhardt’s heart may have been in the right place when he held an impromptu news conference in Lac-Mégantic, Que., but public relations experts say the head of the rail company at the heart of the explosion that devastated the town was ill-prepared and offered a lesson in how not to handle a crisis.
Quebec’s Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster not just tragedy, but corporate crime
(The Guardian) In the explosion’s aftermath, politicians and media pundits have wagged their finger about the indecency of “politicising” the event, of grappling with deeper explanations. We can mourn, but not scrutinise. In April, prime minister Stephen Harper even coined an awkward expression – “committing sociology” – to deride the search for root causes about horrifying events, in the wake of an unrelated, alleged bombing attempt.
But to simply call the Lac-Mégantic explosion a “tragedy” and to stop there, is to make it seem like an accident that occurred solely because of human error or technical oversight. It risks missing how we might assign broader culpability. And we owe it to the people who died to understand the reasons why such a disaster occurred, and how it might be prevented in the future. …
The deeper evidence about this event won’t be found in the train’s black box, or by questioning the one engineer who left the train before it loosened and careened unmanned into the heart of this tiny town. For that you’ll have to look at how Lac-Mégantic was hit by a perfect storm of greed, deregulation and an extreme energy rush driving companies to ever greater gambles with the environment and human life.
The crude carried on the rail-line of US-based company Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway – “fracked” shale oil from North Dakota – would not have passed through Lac-Mégantic five years ago. That’s because it’s part of a boom in dirty, unconventional energy, as fossil fuel companies seek to supplant the depletion of easy oil and gas with new sources – sources that are harder to find, nastier to extract, and more complicated to ship.
10 July
Andrew Coyne: Beware those using Lac-Mégantic disaster to further their own agendas
As they sift through the ashes of their town, the grieving citizens of Lac-Mégantic can console themselves that their loved ones did not die in vain: they have served as useful props for the advancement of Tom Mulcair’s political career.
Lac-Megantic Explosion: Ed Burkhardt Visits Devastated Town
(HuffPost) Burkhardt promised an energetic response to the humanitarian crisis. He said it would partner with the Red Cross, insurers and governments to help fund humanitarian aid and reconstruction of homes.
The Quebec government has announced a $60-million fund to help victims in Lac-Megantic, Que. Premier Pauline Marois said Tuesday that the money will start flowing immediately, with an initial $1,000 to help people with emergencies.
Police sift through ‘crime scene’ days after Quebec train crash
(Reuters) – Investigators sifted through the charred remains of Lac-Megantic’s historic downtown early Wednesday morning, as they searched for clues into what could turn out to be North America’s worst railway disaster since 1989.
9 July
Megantic oil train explosionThe blame game is in full swing in the Lac-Mégantic tragedy
(Globe & Mail) Four days after a runaway train loaded with crude oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic, the blaming game is in full swing.
There is no shortage of suspects in what appears to be a calamitous succession of events. There was the unmanned train that was left on the main line in Nantes, Que,. and not on the side tracks, where it would have been prevented from moving. The unexplained fire, which led Nantes firemen to shut down the train’s engine. The intervention of MM&A employees, who were alerted and called on site after the fire broke out, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) investigators, who contradicted earlier MM&A statements. The steep slope between Nantes and Lac-Mégantic, 13 kilometres away.
But with its slow, distant and misleading responses, a public-relations disaster, no one looks worse than MM&A. The American company seems more preoccupied with its legal liabilities than with showing empathy, even if that is the decent thing to do, both from a human and corporate standpoint, as any PR specialist will tell you.
Mapping the tragedy: A timeline of the Lac-Mégantic train disaster
(Globe & Mail) 11 p.m. A Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train pulls into Nantes, Que., according to the Transportation Safety Board. It is heading east and made up of 72 carloads of crude oil and five locomotive units, according to MMA. The tank car model, called DOT-111A in the United States and CTC-111A in Canada, has been criticized because it is prone to puncturing, even in low-speed collisions. Models 111A are generic tankers that could be used for any liquid, for example corn oil, TSB manager Ed Belkaloul said, noting that it is not double-hulled or reinforced with shields. The tank is just one centimetre thick.

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