Skip to main content

U.S. rail agency issues tough standards after Canada derailment

By Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 12:59 PM EDT, Sat August 3, 2013
Most of the 73-car train derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic early Saturday, and tank cars full of oil exploded and burned. Quebec provincial authorities have found 20 bodies, and 30 more are missing
Most of the 73-car train derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic early Saturday, and tank cars full of oil exploded and burned. Quebec provincial authorities have found 20 bodies, and 30 more are missing "and most probably dead, " Quebec Provincial Police Capt. Michel Forget said Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Train crash killed dozens in Quebec
  • Directive is focused on hazardous material transport
  • "Safety is our top priority," official says
  • The directive is "mandatory," U.S. rail agency says

(CNN) -- Last month's deadly rail accident in Canada spurred the top U.S. rail agency to toughen safety standards, specifically for the transport of hazardous materials.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order preventing trains on "mainline tracks or siding from moving unintentionally."

The agency made the move after an unmanned, runaway 73-car train slammed into the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic in the early morning of July 6. Tank cars full of oil exploded and burned in the heart of the commercial district. The remains of 42 people were recovered, and five people are reported missing.

See accident images

The train had been parked in the neighboring Quebec town of Nantes, but it suddenly rolled into motion after the engineer went to a hotel. The incident is under investigation by Canadian authorities.

Last month, Canada's Transportation Safety Board determined "the braking force applied was insufficient to hold" the runaway train.

"Safety is our top priority," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "While we wait for the full investigation to conclude, the department is taking steps today to help prevent a similar incident from occurring in the United States."

The directive is "mandatory" and the failure of railroads to comply "will result in enforcement actions."

"No train or vehicles transporting specified hazardous materials can be left unattended on a mainline track or side track outside a yard or terminal, unless specifically authorized," the order said.

If a railroad wants authorization to leave a train unattended, it "must develop and submit to FRA a process for securing unattended trains transporting hazardous materials, including locking the locomotive or otherwise disabling it, and reporting among employees to ensure the correct number of hand brakes are applied."

Employees who are responsible for securing trains and vehicles transporting such specified hazardous material must tell dispatchers specific information: "the number of hand brakes applied, the tonnage and length of the train or vehicle, the grade and terrain features of the track, any relevant weather conditions, and the type of equipment being secured."

Train dispatchers must record the information they get and "railroads must implement rules ensuring that any employee involved in securing a train participate in daily job briefings prior to the work being performed."

Also, procedures must be developed "to ensure a qualified railroad employee inspects all equipment that an emergency responder has been on, under or between before the train can be left unattended." And, railroads must pass along the order to "all affected employees."

The rail agency and the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also issued a safety advisory listing recommendations railroads are expected to follow.

"When PHMSA talks about the transportation of hazardous materials, safety is a prerequisite to movement," said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. "We are taking this action today and we will be looking hard at the current rail operating practices for hazardous materials to ensure the public's safety."

Read more: Spain train crash victims mourned, driver charged

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT