30 July 2015

Horrendous Freight Train Incident Prompts Dangerous Rail Cargo Rule Change  

After Forty Seven Die Safety Authorities Act to Prevent Repetition of Lac-Megantic

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US – In the wake of Canada's calamitous 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail freight disaster, the US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a final rule to prevent unattended trains which are carrying highly flammable cargo from rolling away. It is now a mandatory requirement that railroad employees responsible for securing a train must communicate with another qualified individual, also trained in the railroad’s securement requirements, to verify that trains and equipment are properly secured.

Whilst the vast majority of hazardous materials shipping by rail each year arrive at their destinations safely and without incident, the Lac-Mégantic incident demonstrated the substantial potential for danger that exists when an unattended train rolls away. Though the disaster occurred in Canada, the rail freight infrastructure in the two countries are similar and a number of railroads operates in both the US and Canada.

As stated, the new ruling requires a qualified and trained railroad employee to properly secure the equipment and obtain verification of the securement with a second trained and qualified employee. In addition there must be additional communication, including job briefings among crew members responsible for the train securement plus properly installed and utilised exterior locks on locomotives; the setting of sufficient handbrakes; removal of the train reverser; and the proper use of train air brakes.

The rule applies to the trains left unattended on a mainline, siding, and rail yard, carrying any poisonous by inhalation (PIH) and toxic by inhalation (TIH) hazardous materials and trains of 20 or more cars laden with other high-hazard flammable materials. The final rule will go into effect 60 days from publication in the Federal Register. Exterior locks on locomotives will also be required by March 1, 2017, and must be utilised when a locomotive has been left unattended. Acting Administrator of the FRA Sarah Feinberg, said:

“Where the Federal Railroad Administration can take smart steps to quickly raise the bar on safety, it will, and that is exactly what we are doing today. Requiring that an additional, trained individual double check that the handbrakes have been set on a train will help stop preventable accidents. While today’s rule came out of a lesson learned from the Lac-Mégantic derailment, FRA will not hesitate to take additional actions to keep the rail system in the United States safe.”

On July 6, 2013, an unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled downhill and derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Canada. Forty-seven people died and many more were injured. While the Canadian government found that there were nearly 20 causes of the accident, a major cause was that the engineer of the train did not properly secure the train.

Since the Lac-Mégantic derailment, DOT has taken more than 30 actions, including regulations, emergency orders, and safety advisories, to prevent train accidents and improve the safety of high-hazard flammable trains.

Photo: An Aerial view taken following the Lac-Mégantic disaster which cost 47 lives.

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