Gigantic Explosion in Canadian Town

Another disaster: Sixty missing and scores feared dead as train carrying hundreds of tons of oil derails and explodes in fireball in Canadian town center

The center of a Quebec town has been wiped out, according to the mayor, after a freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a fireball at 1am on Saturday.

About 30 buildings were destroyed and 60 people are believed to be missing, but the force of the fire has prevented rescue workers from searching for survivors.


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5 thoughts on “Gigantic Explosion in Canadian Town

  • July 7, 2013 at 4:38 am
    There is just a bit of a problem with this story. Diesel locomotives have a “dead-man switch” to prevent trains from running away. This is standard and has been for some time. It is very simple, when in the operators seat you must push the switch with your left knee and hold it closed while you work the throttle with your hand. If you fall asleep the pressure on the switch is relaxed (it has a spring on it that must be pushed on) and once it relaxes the air brakes are activated stopping the train. There is no way that this can be an accident as the last train crew reported that the train was secured when they left it. Therefore the only other explanation is that someone wired the switch closed, opened the throttle and jumped off. Who would do such a thing? Perhaps someone with an interest in building a pipeline? While that is speculative this incident was not a accident and should be investigated as a criminal matter.
    • July 7, 2013 at 7:10 am

      from The Star:

      The cause of the accident is itself turning out to be stranger than fiction. According to the railway’s operator, the derailed train was a runaway.

      Edward Burkhardt, chief executive of Rail World, the parent company of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said the 73-car train was parked uphill of Lac-Megantic after the engineer had finished his run. Somehow it headed into town without a driver.

      “If brakes aren’t properly applied on a train, it’s going to run away,” said Burkhardt. “But we think the brakes were properly applied on this train.”

      “We’ve had a very good safety record for these 10 years,” he said. “Well, I think we’ve blown it here.”

      Like a war zone: Quebec officials on fatal train derailment

      The 10-year-old railway owns more than 800 kilometres of track serving Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine and Vermont.

      Joseph McGonigle, a railway vice-president, told the Montreal Gazette the conductor stopped the train outside town just before midnight and locked the brakes, ensuring that all the cars were secured. He then checked into a Lac-Mégantic hotel for the night.

      “Sometime after, the train got loose,” said McGonigle. “It travelled under its own inertia to the centre of the town.”

      He said there are security mechanisms to prevent tampering with the train, and the conductor had done the proper checks before leaving the train for the night. The conductor, he said, should have been the only one who could set the train in motion.

      “We’re not sure what happened, but the engineer did everything by the book. He had parked the train and was waiting for his relief … somehow, the train got released,” McGonigle told Reuters.

      “That’s what confuses us. How did this happen? There are many fail-safe modes. How this happened is just beyond us.”

      The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is looking for the black box to confirm the direction and speed of the train. And the provincial police said they are considering a possible criminal investigation.

      Lt. Lapointe said officers are collecting eyewitness accounts as well as photos and videos from cellphones.

      They are also looking into a report that a blaze had started before the train derailed in the town. The Nantes fire department, a short drive from town, confirmed last night that it had received a call sometime before midnight about a locomotive fire.

      “I’m just saying it’s one of the possibilities,” Lapointe said Saturday night.

      Billowing smoke continued to fill the sky Saturday afternoon.

      “We can still see a lot of black smoke and lots of firefighters. This is so saddening to see,” said Leonard Bedard, 80, who lives about a kilometre away. “They should never allow trains carrying that much oil to pass through towns. It makes absolutely no sense, and it makes me angry.”

    • July 7, 2013 at 7:16 am

      MMA Railway using remote control

      A desire to stem annual losses of $4.5 million, embrace newer technology and improve safety and efficiency is pushing Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway to halve its locomotive crews by replacing workers with remote-control devices, railroad officials said Friday.

      Over the last six months, MMA has almost doubled its number of freight trains carrying the remote controls so that almost half now have one crewmember instead of two. Within three years, the Hermon-based railroad will likely have one engineer or conductor on virtually all of its trains, President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Grindrod said.

      “Down on the south end of our area, we are doing all the work with one guy on the train,” Grindrod said Friday. “North of Millinocket we get help [with switching cars] with assistance from other people we have out there.

      “We did not have the full technical capabilities, the remote control equipment, to do it sooner,” he said, “and obviously if you are running two men on a crew and switch to one man, you’re saving 50 percent of your labor component.”

      The move isn’t winning universal acclaim. One Pan Am Railways engineer, Jarod Briggs of Millinocket, said he was among several former MMA workers who left the rail service over the last few years because of the changeover, which they believe is unsafe.

      “So much could happen in a 12-hour shift on one of these trains, such as a washed-out track, downed trees or mechanical failure,” Briggs said Friday. “What if the engineer onboard were to encounter a medical problem? Who is going to know about it?

      “If there is a fire engine or an ambulance needing to get by a train or an [activated] crossing when that happens, it could take hours,” he added.

      Partially in response to remote-control systems, the state of Wisconsin in 1997 passed a law requiring two-man crews aboard all railroad locomotives, Briggs said.

      In Maine, one-man train crews are not illegal and have been in operation for several years, said Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation.

      The Federal Railroad Administration, which monitors rail-service operations and safety nationwide, in 2009 developed a system to monitor and control mechanical components on railroad freight cars from the safety of the locomotive cab, according to the website.

      The project’s main objective was to improve railroad safety and efficiency by using advanced technologies to monitor and control components, as well as improve crew safety and operational efficiency during switching operations, the site states.

      Data collected in 2003 showed that accidents at radio-controlled locomotive — or RCL — sites differed only slightly from nonradio-controlled locomotive sites, 24.09 accidents versus 24.52 accidents per million railroad switching miles.

      However, railroad worker injury rates for radio-controlled locomotive operations were 6.58 per million switching miles compared to 9.54 for conventional operations, a 2006 Federal Railroad Administration report to Congress on radio-controlled locomotives concluded. The study focused almost exclusively on railroad switch-ing yards, as that is where the majority of accidents occur.

      “Our view is that the operation of RCLs is as safe as conventional rail-switching operations,” said Warren F. Latau, a Federal Railroad Administration spokesman, during a telephone interview Friday from Washington.

      “That said, we do continue to monitor their use as they are deployed across the system, which is occurring in increasing numbers. Whenever there is an event involving one, they are specifically scrutinized,” Latau added.

      The agency also responds to any complaints or concerns about radio-controlled locomotives, he said.

      Improving safety and efficiency while decreasing costs is of primary importance to MMA as its leaders work with state officials to avert the railroad’s proposed abandonment of 233 miles of northern Maine freight tracks deemed essential to the state’s economy, Grindrod said.

      The railroad sought federal approval in February to abandon the tracks, most of which run from Madawaska to Millinocket, by summer, strictly as a last resort and due to its losses, Grindrod has said.

      One radio-controlled locomotive system costs $60,000. That’s about the annual cost of salary and health-care benefits for one railroad worker, said MMA Chairman Edward A. Burkhardt, who also is president of The San Luis Central Railroad Co. of Colorado and a member of the board of directors of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway, which serves Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

      The San Luis and Wheeling & Lake railroads use remote control devices, Burkhardt said. Burkhardt also saw remote-control devices in passenger and freight trains in Great Britain and New Zealand, where, as in Europe, one-man crews are common, he said.

      “I was in New Zealand when I first saw one. Guys there could not believe that we used more than one person on a track,” Burkhardt said during an interview from Chicago, where his Rail World Inc. office is located. Rail World railroads in Poland and Estonia also use the devices, he said.

      About 50 percent of rail services in the U.S. employ the remote-control devices, which were first used in Canada about 20 years ago, Burkhardt and Grindrod said.

      Grindrod said he wasn’t surprised to hear that some railroad workers complain about the remote devices, especially since locomotive crews have decreased in size since the 1990s, when five-member crews were common.

      “You got guys out there who have been against any reduction in the size of crews,” he said, “and had we not done something the size of crews would still be five guys.”

  • July 7, 2013 at 7:43 am
    The story still does not make sense. While remote control systems may exist, it doesn’t look like this train had one. Why was there a crew that parked it and went to a hotel for the night if the train could just go on its merry way? Then why secure it???? Further, train brakes are air brakes and are held open by air pressure. Once the air pressure drops off, the brakes are closed by spring that hold them closed. Again, a fail safe system. Air compressor fails, brakes close, train stops. If I was back at DHS in my old position as rail analysts I would be telling them that the story doesn’t make sense and that an investigation is warranted. Again, just my opinion, I could be wrong, I have been out of the loop for 10 years now, hard to believe it has been that long…

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