Lax safety measures to blame for Lac-Mégantic tragedy, safety board says – by Allan Woods (Toronto Star – August 20, 2014)

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The Transportation Safety Board of Canada identified 18 distinct factors that led to the Lac-Mégantic rail crash, including mechanical problems, unsuitable tank cars carrying crude oil, the cost-conscious rail firm and human error.

MONTREAL — Blame a rule-breaking rail company, blame ineffective train inspectors, but don’t blame the federal government for the deadly Lac-Mégantic train disaster, says Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

In the wake of a scathing report into the July 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in the Quebec town, Raitt pointed the finger at three employees of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway now charged with criminal negligence, and referred questions about lapses leading to the accident to bureaucrats under her command.

“We need to remember that in terms of safety, the government puts the rules in place. The companies are expected to follow the rules,” Raitt said in Ottawa. “The company did not follow the rules and that’s a very important fact here too.”

The Transportation Safety Board’s definitive account of the incident said the crash was caused by a marginal rail company that put profits before safety during more than a decade in business.

The TSB identified 18 distinct factors that led to the crash, including mechanical problems, unsuitable tank cars carrying crude oil, the cost-conscious rail firm and human error. If any of them had been avoided, the crash may have been averted.

The safety watchdog said an engine repair in October 2012 led to a locomotive fire on the night of July 5, 2013. After fire crews extinguished the blaze in Nantes, Que., about 10 km from Lac-Mégantic, they cut power to the unattended train’s lead locomotive, which caused the air brakes to bleed off.

The seven hand brakes applied earlier that night by the train’s engineer, Tom Harding, were not sufficient to prevent the 72-car train carrying highly flammable crude oil from rolling along a sloping track and into Lac-Mégantic, where it derailed and exploded.

But the TSB noted it was ultimately the federal government that allowed MMA to operate with minimal hindrance for more than a decade despite what was identified as “an elevated level of risk” caused by repeated issues over how it secured its trains, trained its employees and maintained its tracks.

Transport Canada’s regional office in Quebec never undertook a safety audit of the company until 2010 and those in Ottawa charged with supervising the regional office did not intervene because they were largely in the dark about any oversight weaknesses with its Quebec rail inspectors.

“Who then was in a position to check on this company, to make sure safety standards were being met? Who was the guardian of public safety?” asked TSB chair Wendy Tadros.

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