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TSB raises concerns over Lac-Mégantic response

Safety board sounds alarm on lack of oversight at Transport Canada


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has said that it remains concerned about Transport Canada’s (TC) response to outstanding recommendations stemming from its investigation into the train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que. in July 2013.

Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB, said in a statement that TC was still taking steps to address the rail safety deficiencies identified in the safety board’s investigation. “With respect to preventing runaway trains, TC has introduced multiple layers of defences that, if fully implemented, will significantly reduce risks,” Fox said. “But with respect to TC auditing and oversight activities, we are concerned that the department has not yet put in place an effective oversight regime that guarantees all railways will be audited in sufficient breadth and frequency to ensure safety issues are addressed in a timely manner.”

Regarding prevention of runaway trains (unattended equipment), the TSB investigation determined that more robust defences are required to prevent runaway trains. “Even if they have a low probability of occurrence, these events can have extreme consequences, particularly if they involve dangerous goods — as was seen in Lac-Mégantic,” the statement noted.

Last October, TC issued an Emergency Directive, which expires on April 29, to address weaknesses in the Canadian Rail Operating Rules pertaining to the securement of equipment. Along with a standardized hand brake chart and explicit instructions for hand brake effectiveness testing, additional securement measures must be used. TC has also said that it will hire additional specialized staff to strengthen oversight related to train securement. “If the proposed measures are fully implemented on a permanent basis, the risk of runaway equipment will be significantly reduced,” the statement said. “Therefore, the board assesses the response as having Satisfactory Intent.”

The TSB also recommended that TC audit safety management systems (SMS) of railways in sufficient depth and frequency to confirm that the required processes are effective and that it implement corrective actions to improve safety. The TSB said that while significant progress has been made, “TC has not yet demonstrated that it has implemented an effective oversight regime to ensure all railways will be adequately audited. Furthermore, TC has not committed to auditing every SMS component within a given time period. As a result, deficiencies within a railway’s SMS may not be identified and addressed in a timely manner; therefore, the board assesses the response as being Satisfactory in Part.”

“The Minister of Transport and the department have taken strong action to improve rail safety in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, but more work needs to be done,” Fox concluded in the statement. “We will continue to monitor the department and rail industry’s progress in implementing new regulations and procedures introduced by TC. Canadians deserve no less than the safest transportation system.”

At about 1:15 a.m. on July 6, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train derailed near the centre of Lac-Mégantic, spilling about six million litres of petroleum crude oil. The ensuing blaze and explosions killed 47 people, destroyed much of the downtown core and forced about 2,000 people from their homes.