‘Weak safety culture’ faulted in fatal Quebec train derailment, fire

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Canadian safety investigators on Tuesday blamed a “weak safety culture” and inadequate government oversight for a crude oil train derailment last year in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people.

In its nearly 200-page report, issued more than 13 months after the deadly crash, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board identified 18 contributing factors.

“Take any one of them out of the equation,” said Wendy Tadros, the board’s chairman, “and the accident may not have happened.”

Among other factors, the investigation found that the train’s sole engineer failed to apply a sufficient number of handbrakes after parking the train on a descending grade several miles from Lac-Megantic, and leaving it unattended for the night.

The engineer applied handbrakes to the train’s five locomotives and two other cars, but investigators concluded that he did not set handbrakes on any of the train’s 72 tank cars loaded with 2 million gallons of Bakken crude oil.

Investigators said the engineer should have set at least 17 handbrakes. Instead, he relied on another braking system in the lead locomotive to hold the train in place. But after local residents reported a fire on the locomotive later that night, firefighters shut the locomotive off, following instructions given by another railroad employee.

Not long after, the train began its runaway descent, reaching a top speed of 65 mph. The train derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic at a point where the maximum allowable speed was 15 mph.

Investigators said that the derailment caused 59 of the 63 tank cars that derailed to puncture, releasing 1.6 million gallons of flammable crude oil into the town, much of which burned. In addition to the 47 fatalities, 2,000 people were evacuated, and 40 buildings and 53 vehicles were destroyed.

The train’s engineer and two other railroad employees are set to go on trial next month. But Tadros noted that the investigation revealed “more than handbrakes, or what the engineer did or didn’t do.”

“Experience has taught us that even the most well-trained and motivated employees make mistakes,” she said.

The Quebec derailment set in motion regulatory changes on both sides of the border to improve the safety of trains carrying crude oil. Sixteen major derailments involving either crude oil or ethanol have occurred since 2006, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Tadros said the railroad relied on its employees to follow the rules and that regulators relied on the railroads to enforce their own rules. But she said that a complex system requires more attention to safety.

“It’s not enough for a company to have a safety management system on paper,” she said. “It has to work.”

Read more National Business stories from the Miami Herald

  • Fire chiefs seek probe of 'smart' meters in Nevada

    Two northern Nevada fire chiefs have asked the Public Utilities Commission to investigate the safety of NV Energy's residential "smart" meters, saying they believe the meters are associated with a string of recent fires.

  •  
In this photograph taken Sept. 14, 2014, an investigator works outside the Kodiak Bar and Grill in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, where police said six people were injured in an early morning shooting. The suspects remained at large.

    Police: 6 hurt in shooting outside Alaska bar

    Police say six people were injured, one critically, in a shooting outside a bar in Alaska, and the suspects remain at large.

  • Justin Thomas wins Web.com Tour finals event

    Justin Thomas won the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship on Sunday for his first Web.com Tour title, beating Richard Sterne with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category