Final Report on Lac Megantic Train Disaster Sharply Criticizes Canadian Rail Regulations

The transportation safety board in Canada issued a 200 page report in August that detailed the breakdown and enforcement of Canadian national rail safety regulations that led to the deaths of 47 people in the oil train derailment disaster in Lac Megantic, Quebec in July 2013.

The report detailed 18 causes and contributing factors where rail safety procedures and regulations were not applied or failed. Three related to equipment and operations of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic  (MM&A) Railway, which is the company that receives crude oil trains from CP Rail near Montreal, and then runs them into Quebec and Maine into New Brunswick for Irving Oil. Also found to be at fault were the oil tanker cars that are commonly used in North America to move crude oil. Also, lax procedures and enforcement were cited regarding railway operations throughout the country.

The report blasted Transport Canada for not overseeing the rail safety regime that has gotten less rigorous over the last decade, at the encouragement of several Canadian federal governments. Still the transport minister in Canada replied to the report that the train safety regulations in place are acceptable and the only thing needed to avoid more oil train wrecks is to more rigorously apply current regulations.

That minister in her public statements seemed to blame the companies for not following the rules in the Lac Megantic tragedy. But the report by the TSB does not support that contention by the Canadian government. It explicitly states that Transport Canada failed to ensure rail safety.

Because of the report, attorneys for three employees of MM&A are demanding that criminal charges against them be dropped. All three were charged with criminal negligence in the disaster. But one of the attorneys said that his client’s actions were ‘human error’ and not reckless disregard for safety.

Disasters such as this one in Canada, and an April 2014 of an oil train in Lynchburg, Virginia (VA) have also prompted the US government to look at oil train safety rules here. Changes are being made in the rules that deal with how railroads move hazardous chemicals such as crude oil. The safety of the public is of utmost importance, so we see this as a positive development.

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