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Transportation Safety Board of Canada adds new demands to emergency directive

Repost from The Wall Street Journal
Editor: This story is also covered in railway-technology.com and The Globe and Mail.  – RS]

Canada’s TSB Concerned Railway Safety ‘Remains Inadequate’

Transportation Safety Agency Concerned Over Ottawa’s Oversight of Railway Companies

By Judy McKinnon, Jan. 28, 2015

Canada’s transportation safety agency said Wednesday it is concerned that Ottawa’s oversight of railway companies remains inadequate, while noting that measures now in place would significantly reduce the risk of runaway trains.

Last year, the agency recommended several measures to strengthen rail safety after a 2013 oil-train derailment in Quebec killed 47 people and devastated the small town of Lac-Mégantic.

“While recognizing significant positive action taken by the regulator, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada remains concerned about Transport Canada’s response to outstanding recommendations,” the agency said Wednesday.

Transport Canada is the Canadian federal ministry responsible for rail transportation.

The TSB said it is specifically concerned the ministry hasn’t yet put in place an effective oversight process “that guarantees all railways will be audited in sufficient breadth and frequency to ensure safety issues are addressed in a timely manner.”

Canadian Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt said the ministry has taken action to boost oversight. “As part of our response to the Transportation Safety Board, Transport Canada will be conducting full (safety management systems) audits of federally regulated railway companies on a three-to-five-year cycle,” Ms. Raitt’s spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

In August, the TSB cited 18 factors for the Lac-Mégantic disaster, including a weak safety culture at the train’s operator—Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd.—and lax regulatory oversight. The derailment sharply raised concerns about the growing transportation of crude by rail and was followed by a number of other fiery but non-deadly accidents.

Among the TSB’s recommendations was that Transport Canada audit the safety management systems of all railways on a regular basis to confirm that safety measures are in place, and more measures to secure trains.

Transport Canada hasn’t yet shown that an effective oversight regime has been implemented, which could lead to a lag in identifying safety issues, the TSB said Wednesday.

As for preventing runaway trains, the agency said it is satisfied that Transport Canada has introduced “multiple layers” of defenses that, if fully implemented, will significantly reduce risks.

“The Minister of Transport and the department have taken strong action to improve rail safety in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, but more work needs to be done,” the safety agency said.

Last year, the TSB found that the 72-car train derailed after being left unattended and improperly secured on a descending grade despite indications there were mechanical problems with the lead locomotive. The agency said then that the now-defunct railway didn’t properly train and oversee its crews and lacked fully functioning safety-management processes.

“As we have always said, and as the Transportation Safety Board report clearly indicates, this was a case where rules were not followed,” Ms. Raitt’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.

—Nirmala Menon contributed to this article.
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