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U.S. and Canadian Authorities Respond Quickly to Quebec Railroad Disaster

Image via Flickr by jefzila

It took just a few weeks for U.S. and Canadian transportation authorities to issue new regulations on rail operators following the July incident reported here yesterday. On July 23, Transport Canada issued a new rule requiring at least two crew members to be on board any train carrying hazardous materials.

On August 3, the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a new list of regulations, including the rule that no worker leave a train unattended without getting prior authorization, workers must notify their dispatcher of how many hand brakes are used to secure a train, and workers responsible for securing parked trains must participate in daily briefings on the job. Railroads have 30 days to comply with the new regulations.

The July 6 accident involved 72 rail cars carrying crude oil from a hydraulic fracking site in North Dakota to the St. John crude oil refinery in New Brunswick. The train’s operator failed to use adequate pressure when applying the hand brakes, and only used the brake systems in the locomotives, not in any of the rail cars. The train dislodged from its parking spot and traveled unattended into the town of Lac-Megantic, where it exploded killing 47 people and demolishing 40 buildings.

This accident was the worst Canadian railroad disaster in over 100 years, and both U.S. and Canadian transportation authorities maintain that railroads remain one of the safest ways to transport large amounts of cargo over long distances. In 2011, only 20 accidents involving trains occurred out of 2.2 million shipments.

Railroads have become the go-to transportation system for the booming crude oil industry, as shipments have increased by 433 percent since 2005 due to new hydraulic fracking processes used to harvest crude oil and natural gas trapped beneath shale. The production of ethanol has increased by a similar amount, which has also increased demands for trains carrying hazardous materials.

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