LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. – The Transportation Safety Board is calling for two immediate changes in rail policy following the Lac-Megantic catastrophe.
The agency isn’t waiting for the results of its multi-month investigation, which has just begun, to make the recommendations.
It has sent Transport Canada two safety advisories asking for a pair of changes: first, that dangerous goods not be left unattended on a main track and, also, that rail equipment be properly secured.
“As this accident has demonstrated, accidents involving trains carrying dangerous goods can have tragic consequences,” said the TSB in one of its letters to the government.
“Given the importance to the safe movement of dangerous goods and the vulnerability of unattended equipment, (Transport Canada) may wish to consider reviewing all railway operating procedures to ensure that trains carrying DGs (dangerous goods) are not left unattended on the main track.”
In its other letter, the safety board urged a revision of the Canadian Rail Operating Rule No. 112 governing the securement of parked trains.
It says Rule 112 is not specific enough because it does not spell out how many handbrakes to apply for various weights and types of cargo. It also says that the standard, so-called “push-pull test” does not always accurately show whether the brakes have been adequately applied.
A TSB official told a news conference in Lac-Megantic that it’s clear insufficient brake force was applied before a train went slamming into the town on July 6.
He says there could be different reasons for that — it could be mechanical problems with the handbrakes, or a problem with the way someone applied them.
Almost two weeks ago, an unmanned train belonging to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway carrying 72 cars of crude oil slammed into the heart of Lac-Megantic, setting off massive explosions that are believed to have killed as many as 50 people.
A spokesman for the agency says it’s had a closer look at 25 tanker cars since gaining access to the blast site two days ago.
“We’re continuing to conduct the mechanical inspections of all of the tankers,” said TSB investigator Donald Ross.
“All of the cars are being examined, being inspected, and measurements are being taken and being documented with a photographic record.”
Some tankers are being set aside and certain pieces are being sent for analysis.
The cars being set aside are being captured in 3D laser images by the Transportation Safety Board and their U.S. counterpart, the National Transportation Safety Board.
A 3D view will allow authorities to get a better idea of what happened, Ross said.
As for what was inside the cars, samples have also been sent for analysis, Ross said.
“We’ve taken samples of the liquefied petroleum product that was being transported and that’s being sent for analysis so we understand the specific properties.”
The TSB has also inspected the track between the blast site and Nantes, where the train had been parked.
It has met numerous witnesses — including the train conductor, railway company officials and firefighters who were on site.
Ross said they are also looking at official documents, like shipping documents and rail journals.
“We are interested in the one-man train operation that existed here as well as the railways’ safety management system plan,” Ross said.
Ross said there are similarities between the Lac-Megantic accident and previous ones, including an incident near Sept-Iles, Que., in December 2011 that had to do with securing trains.
The agency said it also took part in a Quebec provincial police briefing with victims’ families and is trying to get information to them as quickly as possible as their investigation progresses.