Railroads and their regulators on both sides of the Canadian-US border continued to address oil-by-rail transportation safety issues nearly a month after an incident with 72 crude-bearing tank cars near Lac-Megantic in Quebec on July 6.
An apparently unattended Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway freight train with 72 Bakken crude-bearing tanker cars headed for an eastern Canadian refinery lost control early that morning and derailed, causing explosions and a fire that took 47 lives and extensively damaged property.
Canada's Transportation Safety Board completed its on-site inspection on Aug. 1, and its investigation moved into the examination and analysis phase.
Next steps include analyzing metallurgical samples, damage records, and photographs to determine the crashworthiness of the tank cars involved; examining selected wreckage in the laboratory and testing brakes, wheel sets, and other components; and reviewing the locomotive data recorder's data to validate speed, air-brake reaction, and other data.
Investigators also plan to process, analyze, and compare numerous fluid samples "in order to verify the properties of the petroleum product in these tank cars," TSB said. "This analysis is being carried out to help investigators determine why the oil created such a fierce fire that night."
Investigator-in-Charge Donald Ross noted, "We need to be thorough, and it will take months. This investigation remains a top priority for the TSB."
The US Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order and safety advisory Aug. 2 in response to the incident. The order, which all US railroads must implement within 30 days, stated no train or vehicles carrying specified hazardous materials can be left unattended on a mainline or side track outside a yard or terminal unless specifically authorized.
It also said all employees responsible for securing such trains or vehicles must let dispatchers know the number of hand brakes applied, the train or vehicle's tonnage and length, the track's grade and terrain features, any relevant weather conditions, and the type of equipment being secured.
A dispatcher or other qualified railroad employee will have to verify that the securement meets the railroad's requirements, FRA's order said. The safety order, which it issued along with the US Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration, outlined additional recommendations.
US freight railroads will implement the order to improve transportation of crude, ethanol, and other hazardous materials, Association of American Railroads Pres. Edward R. Hamberger said.
The industry also will review its own operating practices to find more ways to enhance safety, Hamberger said, adding, "Railroads are always looking for ways to make this nation's rail network safer for our employees, our communities, and the environment."