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Canadian safety head marks anniversary of Lac-Mégantic derailment

Much work is still needed to bolster rail safety and prevent another tragic accident like the one that happened in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, 10 years ago, the head of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said on Thursday.

“Despite significant safety action taken by [Transport Canada] and the railway industry to reduce the number of unplanned and uncontrolled movements of rail equipment, such events continue to occur, posing a significant risk to people, property, and the environment,” said TSB Chair Kathy Fox in a statement.

On July 6, 2013, a runaway Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway cargo train reached a speed of 65 mph before derailing in the center of the town of Lac-Mégantic at around 1:15 a.m. ET. Sixty-three tank cars derailed, spilling nearly 1.6 gallons of crude oil and causing an explosion in the center of town that led to the deaths of 47 people.

“As we think of the people of Lac-Mégantic, I want to emphasize that the TSB remains firmly committed to advocating for changes that will advance rail transportation safety, so that no other Canadian community will ever have to face such a catastrophic event,” Fox said.

Following the July 2013 accident, TSB issued five recommendations to Transport Canada, three of which the agency has addressed. These recommendations involved revisions to tank car standards, route planning and analysis, and emergency response assistance plans. 

But two recommendations — one on preventing uncontrolled movements of rail equipment and the other on enhanced regulatory surveillance — “remain open,” said Fox, reiterating a June 13 release in which TSB called for the rail sector to take further action.

Fox’s comments on Thursday build upon TSB’s “watchlist” for the railway industry. That annual list, last published in October, calls for Transport Canada, the railways and labor unions to take steps that would result in more physical defenses to reduce uncontrolled movements. This includes further implementation of derail devices, additional analysis on the underlying causes of uncontrolled movements in certain switching movements and the development of strategies to reduce uncontrolled movements.

TSB determined that additional steps are necessary to stem uncontrolled movements because incident data shows an upward trend between 2010 and 2019. While 2020 and 2021 data showed decreases, that decline could be due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, TSB said in October. Furthermore, other accidents, such as the January 2019 derailment of a Canadian Pacific train in Field, British Columbia, that killed three employees, also involved uncontrolled movement, according to TSB.

Others were also commemorating the 10th anniversary of the rail disaster on Thursday. Marc Brazeau, president and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada, said in a statement: “All of Canada and every Canadian railroader stands in solidarity with the people of Lac-Mégantic and with those who lost loved ones in the tragedy. The memories of those who perished are forever etched on our collective soul. The events of that day serve as a stark reminder of every railroader’s singular mission: to deliver the goods Canadians need and use everyday, safely.”

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