Skip to comments.18 minutes of silence: No alert went out as runaway train barrelled into Quebec town
Posted on 07/10/2013 5:35:49 AM PDT by thackney
Authorities were never made aware that a runaway train was on its way to levelling part of a small Quebec town, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Tuesday.
Rail dispatchers had no chance to intervene during the fateful 18-minute journey because they didnt know it was happening, TSB investigator Donald Ross told a news conference.
There were no signals nor track circuits, so the rail-traffic controller had no and would have had no indication that there had been a runaway train, he said.
Such systems are in place on busier rail lines including the one linking Montreal and Quebec City, but not on secondary lines, said TSB manager Ed Belkaloul.
A clearer picture of the events leading up to the fatal derailment began to emerge Tuesday as board officials gave a bare-bones account of their investigation thus far.
But they stressed its much too early to say who was responsible for the security of the train that rolled into Lac-Megantic and exploded into balls of fire, killing at least 13 people and leaving nearly 40 more missing.
We want to know the answer to that question as well, Ross said.
We need to do all of our interviews and talk to all of the people before we make sure weve got it right.
Its very important to know exactly who did what. Who was there? What did they do? Until weve had a chance to interview everybody we need to talk to, we cant comment on that yet.
The finger-pointing has already begun, with untold financial stakes at play: there are already local rumours of potential lawsuits while various parties speculate about impending compensation.
The company that owns the train, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, and fire officials in the nearby town of Nantes have blamed each other as investigators search for causes in the tragedy that has ravaged the close-knit community about 250 kilometres east of Montreal.
The fire chief in Nantes has offered an assessment different from the railways about who might have been to blame in the hours leading up to the tragedy.
Edward Burkhardt, the president and CEO of MMAs parent company, Rail World, Inc., has suggested the fire crew didnt do enough and even suggested the decision to shut off the locomotive to put out a fire earlier in the night might have disabled the brakes.
The fire crew, however, says it was simply following procedures set out by the railway itself.
Burkhardt is set to visit Lac-Megantic this week and will likely face tough questions and a fair degree of anger from residents.
He told the CBC in an interview that the company has already changed some of its procedures such as switching crews around Lac-Megantic and its older rail infrastructure.
He also suggested that the decision to staff trains with one-man crews, and leaving them unattended during breaks, might have to change.
I think we followed normal industry practice, but the question is is that normal industry practice adequate in todays circumstances, particularly when youre handling trains of flammable materials like oil, Burkhardt told the network.
I think there is going to be a number of changes in the rail industry overall as a result of what occurred here and I hope that well be at the forefront.
When asked whether the one-person policy had been a good idea Burkhardt replied: Is this correct? Id put a real question mark on that one right now... I can tell you on MMA, were not leaving any of these trains unattended for now on.
A key unanswered question now is: Who was the last person at the scene, tending to the stationary train?
The employee who was on site initially was the employee who brought the train to Nantes, Ross said. That person secured the train.
Subsequent to that, the fire department personnel were on site and subsequent to that another MMA was called to assist the department.
Ross said the train was travelling well in excess of its authorized speed when it careened off the tracks, although no exact speed was given.
Ross said the train started to roll after the firefighters and the rail employee had left.
Questions were also raised at the news conference about the rail tankers involved in the crash.
The tankers are known as DOT-111 and have a history of puncturing during accidents, Ross has said.
Flaws in the DOT-111 have been noted as far back as a 1991 safety study. Among other things, its steel shell is too thin to resist puncturing in accidents, which almost guarantees the car will tear open, potentially spilling cargo that could catch fire, explode or contaminate the environment.
Weve had a long record of advocating for further improvements to many of these 111s because theyre a very common type of tanker car, Ross said Tuesday.
When you take very large volumes of petroleum products, like in this case, everyone sees the damage that was caused here.
Ross said its too early to say the explosions could have been prevented had the tanker cars been stronger.
On Tuesday, Pope Francis sent a blessing from the Vatican to those touched by the tragedy. In a statement announcing that special apostolic blessing, the Pope expressed his sympathy to victims, their families and emergency workers.
The Queen has also offered a message of condolence.
The pro-independence Quebec government has offered a first hint that it might be gearing up to blame Ottawa for the incident.
Premier Pauline Marois said shes concerned about federal safety standards and wants answers. She pointed out that, under Canadas federal system, theres little the province can do to protect against rail disasters.
All we can do now is demand answers from Ottawa, Marois said during a brief news conference outside her office in Quebec City.
I believe theyve understand and thats what theyre working on.
She was asked whether she might call a public inquiry into the disaster: Were not there yet, she said. Its a federal responsibility. The federal government will assume its responsibilities. But we can revisit all the issues related to this event in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Lac-Megantics mayor said Tuesday that about 1,200 residents are being allowed home.
The town of about 6,000 has lost most of its downtown with a library, a popular bar, a waterfront park, and dozens of homes and businesses incinerated.
The mayor pleaded for tourists to come this summer to the region, whose wild natural beauty and charming 19th-century towns are a popular draw.
Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche urged people not to cancel their travel plans.
If you want to do something for us, dont abandon us, she told a news conference.
Even if theres a catastophe downtown, everything else works.
The downtown core lies in ruins Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Que., in a Surete du Quebec handout photo made available Tuesday. Thirteen people are confirmed dead and forty more are listed as missing after a train derailed ignited tanker cars carrying crude oil. THE CANADIAN PRESS
The Sainte-AgnËs Catholic Church stands unscaved next to the derailment and blast site in Lac-Megantic, Que., Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Pope Francis extended an apostolic blessing to victims, families and everyone affected by the tragedy on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Seems like a very effective bit of eco-sabotage.
Another reason to build PIPELINES, IMHO.
Hmmm. I hadn’t considered that possibility yet. Alot of question but few answers about this incident. And literally no TV coverage here in the states but they can’t go 5 mins. without showing the airplane crash video again.
Those pictures are just devastating to look at. I feel so bad for the people in that town. May those who died rest in peace and may the injured quickly heal.
I am completely confused about what happened. I thought this train was running its normal route and (for whatever reason) derailed. But here, and before, I’m reading it was a run-away train, and nobody seems to know how that happened. And then I read something like in this piece where they are saying the train was going “well in excess of its authorized speed”, if it’s a run away train just running down the track unmanned of course it might be traveling too fast, or even too slow I suppose.
I’m very confused about how this happened, it certainly seems like somebody somewhere was very careless at best.
In very simple terms:
The train was parked overnight and left unattended with one engine running that maintained the brake air pressure line.
A small fire was found near/at the train.
Fire fighters, following the train guidelines shut down the engine and put out the fire, contacted train dispatching.
An hour or so later, the train began to roll downhill.
The train was going to fast to stay on the track as it rolled through this town.
Detailed timeline at:
That is the part that I do not understand. Why would you want to maintain the brake pressure? If you were leaving the train for any length of time, wouldn't you want to release the air pressure and set the brakes on all the cars, thereby preventing the train from moving?
What am I missing here?
Yes, I've found online operation manuals for other train departments that say just that.
What am I missing here?
Incompetence, lazy, cutting corners and saving time, leaving without following procedures, etc...
What are you missing? The same thing I’m missing.
I should clarify. Trains are not like trucks trailers with spring close brakes. They use air pressure both to open and close brakes. Each car has air reserve tanks so that in a supply line brake, the brakes are applied. But that reserve tank is not going to last forever. It is intended to give time for an operator to come set the hand brake, make repairs, etc.
That is what I am missing. I did assume that they used a similar setup to trucks where a loss of pressure would set the brakes.
My mistake...Never mind...Move along.
Air pressure is used to release the brakes, not apply them.
The air pressure that holds the brake open also supplies are to pressure up individual tanks on each car to initially hold the brake closed. It is intended to give enough time to allow the hand brakes to be set on each individual car. It is not designed to stay held closed forever.
From what I understand, reducing air pressure in the brake pipe (brake air line) would set the brakes in the cars. So, killing the compressor in the engine might result in slowing falling air pressure in the system, which would activate the brakes in the cars. Presumably that had already been done.
However, again from what I understand, the air pressure in the car brakes will eventually leak down if not replenished by air from the engine. The service air brakes are not supposed to be used for holding a train which is to be parked unattended, however - the handbrakes should be set on a sufficient number of cars - so that the state of the air brake system shouldn’t have mattered, anyway. So either someone didn’t do there job and properly set enough handbrakes on the cars, and test that they would hold, or someone released the handbrakes on the cars, as well as shutting down the air brake system.
I belive you are correct, else they couldn’t switch cars in a freight yard.
Thank you. I’m kind of surprised and horrified that something like this could happen. I’ll take a look at the link too.