Skip to comments.Insight: How a train ran away and devastated a Canadian town
Posted on 07/09/2013 4:43:49 AM PDT by thackney
...The locomotive caught fire, so firefighters shut off the engine to stop the flames from spreading. That slowly disengaged the air brakes, and the driverless train carrying 72 cars of crude oil rolled downhill into the scenic lakeside town of Lac-Megantic, derailing, exploding and leveling the town center.
At least 13 people were killed and some 37 are still missing, according to Canadian police...
He secured the train at 11:25 p.m. on Friday, setting the air brakes and hand brakes, according to MMA. Burkhardt said the engineer set the brakes on all five locomotives at the front of the train, as well as brakes on a number of cars, in line with company policy. Four of the train's engines were switched off, but the front locomotive was left on to power the airbrakes. The engineer, who Burkhardt declined to name, then retired to a hotel in Lac-Megantic.
Soon after, things started to go wrong. Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert said the fire department got a call about a blaze on one of the locomotives at 11:30 p.m. He said the fire was likely caused by a broken fuel or oil line.
Firefighters reached the scene within seven minutes.
"It was a good sized fire, but it was contained in the motor of the train," Lambert told Reuters. "By 12:12, the fire was completely out."
But as they extinguished the fire, the 12 volunteer firemen also switched off the locomotive, in line with their own protocols, to prevent fuel from circulating into the flames.
One of the many unknowns in the story is precisely what happened next.
Lambert said the fire department contacted the railway's regional office in Farnham, Quebec, and spoke to the dispatcher...
(Excerpt) Read more at reuters.com ...
If an engine needs to remain ON then some train personell MUST remain behind?
The ignorance of the fire department was trumped by the lack of RR personell on hand.
Didn’t chock the wheels?
You beat me to it.
I live across the street from a set of railroad tracks that feed a power plant about a mile north of me. They park their engines there all the time at an idle and the crew jumps into a couple of cars waiting for them and leave, sometimes for an entire weekend.
The tracks are pretty flat but in really doesn’t take much of a grade, certainly enough to not be able to tell by eye, to get them moving I believe.
What a tragedy ... so much human error, even though everyone seems to have followed their own protocol.
Seems to me the RR dispatcher that got the call from the fire dept. should have contacted the engineer and he should have gone out to check the train.
There was another eyewitness report consistent with the story above. Paraphrasing, a group of people were exiting the bar and saw the train barreling into town, several wheels glowing red and smoking. He yelled “run!” realizing the train would never make the curve at its rate of speed.
So the glowing wheels would be consistent with the statement that several manual brakes [sadly and obviously, not enough of them] were applied and those would be the likely source of ignition as the tank cars ruptured. One of the photos of the aftermath showed a tank car pierced with a piece of rail.
I’m still not clear on the timeline, though. What is the actual span of time between the fire service turning off the engine and the actual runaway?
The town is devastated, the engineer is staying at a hotel in town, and what seems to me to be missing is the fate of the engineer, possibly an ironic ending or a really bad wakeup or both.
First thing I thought of, it doesn’t take much if the train is sitting still.
In trucks with air brakes, when the air pressure goes down the brakes come on automatically.
Evidently Trains are different.
Leaving a train with no one around seems a stupid thing to do. Any child or vandal could go on board and release the brakes. I cannot imagine something as expensive as a train left running with no one on board.
Ditto heavy equipment.
Question born of ignorance;
Don't the air brakes lock up when the air pressure in the system falls below a certain point?
Chocks wouldn’t help if it was an SUV train.
Missed your post while composing mine.
Chocks wouldnt help if it was an SUV train.
I’ll bite. What’s an SUV train? This better not be funny.
In the early railroad days runaway trains were common.
George Westinghouse set to work and developed the air brake system. On loss of pressure, the brakes on all cars were released and stopped the train.
Something is not correct about the reporting
Air brakes reduced the need for brakemen that turned the wheels on each car to set the brakes. Even though mostly un needed, railway unions required brakemen decades after they were not needed.
Something doesnt seem right with this explanation. In most air brake systems if there is no air pressure the brakes are ON or applied. Its the air pressure from the compressor that releases the brakes. If the engine is off the air compressor isnt generating air pressure which would mean the brakes are locked ON. In big trucks and even in my motor coach if the engine isnt running to produce air pressure to release the brakes it wont move.