Tag Archives: Montreal

$200 million settlement money announced for victims of Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

Repost from The Globe and Mail, Toronto
[Editor: Significant quote: “‘The main three bad actors, World Fuels, Canadian Pacific Railway and Irving Oil, aren’t contributing a penny to this settlement. We’re going to keep going after them very hard in American court,’ said Mr. Flowers.”  – RS]

Settlement money announced for victims of Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

Justin Giovannetti, Jan. 09 2015
Smoke rises from tanker cars in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Smoke rises from tanker cars in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The families of those who died in the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster will have access to a $200-million (U.S.) fund, according to details released Friday from the bankruptcy case of the railroad responsible for the 2013 tragedy in eastern Quebec.

The fund still needs to be approved by Canadian and American courts before the first cheques are mailed to the families of the 47 people killed in the crash. A firefighter who died by suicide three months after the disaster was added to the list of victims. Money could flow as soon as this spring.

“The families of the victims need to live with this disaster every day. Those in town have gone into debt to try to get back on our feet and rebuild. If this could let us start over our lives on the right foot, that would be great, but we haven’t seen any money yet,” Yannick Gagné, the owner of the Musi-Café bar where the majority of the victims died, told The Globe on Friday.

Mr. Gagné has rebuilt the Musi-Café, but he’s still awaiting the help he says he was promised in the weeks after the disaster.

Just after 1 a.m. on July 6, 2013, a train carrying 72 cars of crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in New Brunswick careened while unmanned into the centre of town and derailed. A series of powerful explosions then levelled much of the city’s once picturesque downtown.

The settlement money announced Friday was drawn not only from the liquidation of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the firm at the centre of the derailment, but also from a number of companies that extracted the oil, built the rail cars and leased them to shippers.

According to Peter Flowers, a Chicago-based lawyer involved in a wrongful death lawsuit, talks are continuing about how much of the $200-million will go to the families of victims.

“The money goes to the wrongful death victims – a class-action filed in Canada – those who suffered economic and emotional damages, and to the provincial and federal governments’ environmental claims,” Mr. Flowers said.

Crews are still demolishing buildings in downtown Lac-Mégantic and locals remain jittery about how much compensation they’ll receive. Property owners downtown have received $37-million from the government. But victims of the disaster have so far received nothing from the companies.

While bankruptcy trustee Robert Keach said he is seeking $500-million for the victims’ fund before Monday’s filing deadline, Mr. Flowers said the decision not to pay by three of the largest corporations linked to the disaster was responsible for the shortfall.

“The main three bad actors, World Fuels, Canadian Pacific Railway and Irving Oil, aren’t contributing a penny to this settlement. We’re going to keep going after them very hard in American court,” said Mr. Flowers.

The three companies have so far denied any responsibility for the 2013 disaster.

Canada: Dangerous crude could still travel in misclassified tank cars

Repost from The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada

Dangerous crude could still travel in misclassified tank cars, TSB says

Kim Mackrael and Grant Robertson, Sep. 04 2014
People from several juristictions including the Ministry of the Environment for Canada and Quebec, and the RCMP prepare to do some investigative work in the area of the nine remaining tank cars sitting on the tracks in Nantes, PQ on July 11, 2013. This is where the ill-fated train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic originated from early Saturday morning. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
People from several jurisdictions including the Ministry of the Environment for Canada and Quebec, and the RCMP prepare to do some investigative work in the area of the nine remaining tank cars sitting on the tracks in Nantes, PQ on July 11, 2013. This is where the ill-fated train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic originated from early Saturday morning. | (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Canada’s transportation safety agency is raising concerns that dangerous crude oil could still be travelling by rail inside misclassified tank cars, despite assurances from the federal government that the problem has been fixed.

In a recent letter to Transport Canada, the Transportation Safety Board said new requirements to test oil don’t explicitly address its “variability,” including the fact that different products are sometimes blended together before they are shipped.

The letter was sent just days before the TSB issued its final report on the Lac-Mégantic rail tragedy, in which a train loaded with volatile crude oil exploded last summer, killing 47 people and levelling much of the Quebec town. The agency’s report, made public last month, found that more than a dozen different factors contributed to the crash, including a failure to apply enough hand brakes, a weak safety culture at the railway and lax regulation by the federal government.

TSB tests conducted early in the investigation showed that the oil on the train was more volatile than its shipping documents had indicated and it recommended that new measures be taken to ensure shipments are classified accurately. The federal government responded by toughening the rules for testing crude oil samples, including new provisions requiring a shipper to make information about the sampling method they use available to the government upon request.

However, those new regulations “do not explicitly address the variability in the properties of mined gases and liquids, such as petroleum crude oil,” the letter from the TSB says. While the properties of manufactured dangerous goods, such as gasoline, are better understood and relatively predictable, the agency warned that crude oil and natural gas can vary from one well to another and in the same well over time.

Oil that comes from different sources may also be blended when it’s loaded onto rail cars, the TSB notes. That means crude that was deemed relatively safe during one set of tests – for example, at the time crude is extracted from a well – could be mixed with more dangerous oil when it is loaded onto tank cars, and the overall risk may not be reflected by the original test results. The TSB letter also raises questions about the department’s ability to enforce its own classification rules.

Oil is widely known to be flammable, but regulators in Canada did not previously believe it had the potential to explode and cause the kind of destruction it did in Lac-Mégantic. The train that derailed there was carrying light crude from the Bakken formation, which straddles North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Bakken crude and other light shale oils are now widely believed to be more volatile than conventional oil.

A spokesperson for Transport Canada said there are “strict requirements” under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act that compel companies to classify dangerous goods properly. “Testing criteria are harmonized with [United Nations] requirements and are the same as for the U.S.,” the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. She added that the department is working with the crude oil industry, U.S. regulators and Natural Resources Canada to develop standardized tools and processes for crude oil testing.

The American Petroleum Institute recently developed a new set of classification and rail loading standards for its members to approve, which are expected to be made public later this month. Both Transport Canada and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were involved in the process, according to the API, but the new standards would not be enforceable unless regulators chose to adopt them.

In the meantime, some companies are choosing to adopt new testing methods – in addition to those required by federal regulations – to ensure they are accurately measuring the possible dangers of the crude they’re extracting or transporting. Producers in North Dakota are also increasingly looking to stabilize the crude before they ship it, in a process that removes the most volatile components from the main product, reducing the potential dangers of shipping it by rail.

A separate safety advisory from the TSB, which was also issued days before the agency’s final report on Lac-Mégantic, warned that some of the problems identified at Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway may also exist at other short-line railways. The safety agency said runaway trains occur at a greater rate at short-line railways than larger railways and suggested short-line employees may not always receive the training they need to operate safely.

Report Reveals Cost Cutting Measures At Heart Of Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster

Repost from Desmogblog
[Editor: See also this nicely-bulleted summary of the TSB Report: Lac-Mégantic derailment: Anatomy of a disaster, by Kim Mackrael, The Globe and Mail.  – RS]

Report Reveals Cost Cutting Measures At Heart Of Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster

2014-08-19, by Justin Mikulka

Today the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its final report on the July 6th, 2013 train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The report produced a strong reaction from Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada’s Climate and Energy Campaign coordinator.

This report is a searing indictment of Transport Canada’s failure to protect the public from a company that they knew was cutting corners on safety despite the fact that it was carrying increasing amounts of hazardous cargo. This lax approach to safety has allowed the unsafe transport of oil by rail to continue to grow even after the Lac Megantic disaster. It is time for the federal government to finally put community safety ahead of oil and rail company profits or we will see more tragedies, Stewart said.”

Throughout the report there is ample evidence to support Stewart’s position and plenty to show why the people of Lac-Megantic want the CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), the rail company responsible for the accident, held accountable in place of the engineer and other low level employees currently facing charges.

At the press conference for the release of the report the TSB representatives often noted that they had found 18 factors that contributed to the actual crash and they were not willing to assign blame to anyone, claiming that wasn’t their role.

But several critical factors stand out and they are the result of MMA putting profits ahead of safety and Transport Canada (TC), the Canadian regulators responsible for overseeing rail safety, failing to do its job.

Engine Fire

The issue that set the whole chain of events into motion on July 6th was an engine fire in the unattended locomotive. As usual the engineer had left the train unattended with one locomotive running while shutting off the others. This locomotive supplied power to the air braking system. The locomotive caught on fire, the fire department was called and they put out the fire and shut off the locomotive in the process.

Today’s TSB report notes that the fire was due to an improper repair of a cam bearing. Instead of doing a costly replacement, the cam bearing was repaired with epoxy (polymeric material).  As the report states:

This temporary repair had been performed using a polymeric material, which did not have the strength and durability required for this use.

Braking Failure

Once the locomotive was shut down due to the fire, it could no longer power the air brake system.

As previously reported on DeSmogBlog, this type of system has been described as “19th century technology” by a rail safety expert at the Federal Railroad Administration but as a whole the rail industry has not upgraded to newer technologies because of the costs involved.

Without power to the air braking system, the braking system lost pressure over time and the train began to roll towards Lac-Megantic.

This wouldn’t have been an issue if the proper number of handbrakes had been applied. But the engineer had not applied enough handbrakes because he had not performed the hand brake effectiveness test properly and had left the locomotive air brakes on while conducting the test. The report notes the lack of training and oversight for that particular locomotive engineer (LE).

Furthermore, the LE was never tested on the procedures for performing a hand brake effectiveness test, nor did the company’s Operational Tests and Inspections (OTIS) Program confirm that hand brake effectiveness tests were being conducted correctly.

The report also notes that when MMA employees were tested for safety knowledge, they could take the tests home.

Requalification typically consisted of 1 day to complete the exam, and did not always involve classroom training. On many occasions, employees would take the exam home for completion.

However, in this case, there were not even questions on the test on this critical subject.

They did not have questions on the hand brake effectiveness test, the conditions requiring application of more than the minimum number of hand brakes, nor the stipulation that air brakes cannot be relied upon to prevent an undesired movement.

And they found this had been the situation since before the oil trains starting running.

Since 2009, no employee had been tested on CROR 112(b), which targeted the hand brake effectiveness test. In 2012, U.S. employees had been tested twice on that rule; both tests had resulted in a “Failure”.

Single Operator Risks

The report goes into detail about how MMA came to be operating oil trains with only one crew member. And while ultimately the regulators failed, some did raise flags about this. When MMA initially sought to move to single person train operations (SPTO) from the standard two person crew, it was noted that there were significant issues with their operations.

In July 2009, TC expressed a number of concerns that centred on deficiencies in MMA operations, including lack of consultation with employees in doing risk assessments, problems managing equipment, problems with remote-control operations, issues with rules compliance, issues with fatigue management, and a lack of investment in infrastructure maintenance.

Additionally the report notes that Transport Canada’s Quebec office expressed specific concerns in 2010.

TC Quebec Region reiterated its concern about MMA’s suitability as an SPTO candidate.

And yet despite the concerns and MMA’s poor track record, in 2012 they were allowed to start running single crew trains despite TC Quebec still expressing concern.

In February 2012, TC met with MMA and the RAC. TC advised MMA that TC did not approve SPTO. MMA only needed to comply with all applicable rules and regulations. TC Quebec Region remained concerned about the safety of SPTO on MMA.

Unsurprisingly, the additional training for employees who would be operating trains on their own was almost non-existent. And it was focused on the fact that for safety purposes, engineers were allowed to stop the trains and take naps.

The actual SPTO training for several LEs, including the accident LE, consisted of a short briefing in a manager’s office on the need to report to the RTC every 30 minutes, on the allowance for power naps, and on the need to bring the train to a stop to write clearances.

This report is a clear indictment of a system that allows for corporate profit over public safety. However, what also is clear from today’s press conference and from the regulatory situation in the United States is that nothing of significance has changed regarding the movement of oil by rail in the US and Canada.

A poorly maintained locomotive can still be left running and unattended. There still is no formal regulation on how many hand brakes need to be applied to secure a train.

Single person crews are still allowed and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the company moving the most oil-by-rail in the U.S., is working to implement this as a practice despite the objections of the employees.

In short, the corporate profit before public safety approach is still standard operating procedure. And the oil trains are expected to return to the tracks through Lac-Megantic within a year.

Train tracks where the ill-fated train was parked. (c) Justin Mikulka.

Image Credit: Transportation Safety Board via flickr.