OTTAWA—A scathing report from a Canadian think-tank alleges a series of systematic errors at the corporate and federal levels are to be found at the root of the July rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que.
The report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) claims a combination of corporate negligence and regulatory failure culminated in the July 6 tragedy that levelled the town in eastern Quebec, killing an estimated 47 people.
Some of those alleged regulatory flaws include an exemption from the required two-person crews granted by Transport Canada to Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MMA) Railway Ltd., the operator at the heart of the disaster.
According to the CCPA, the exemption granted to MMA was one of only two extended to a freight railway in Canada, and was issued despite alleged objections from the union representing the railway’s workers.
“Barring new evidence, it seems MMA, an admittedly poor performer compared to other companies, simply took advantage of the freedom granted by the regulatory system,” CCPA executive director Bruce Campbell said in a statement.
Campbell and the CCPA also claim that, until tragedy struck in Lac-Megantic, “Transport Canada did not heed repeated Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) warnings regarding unsafe tank cars, vague brake rules and rules allowing trains be left unlocked and unattended.”
In the weeks after the disaster, Transport Canada acted on TSB recommendations and made changes to the Railway Safety Act, including making it mandatory for trains hauling crude oil to have more than one operator, have their brakes set when left unattended and ensure locomotives “are protected from unauthorized entry into the cab.”
“Lac-Megantic has heightened public awareness of the dangers of huge shipments of crude oil passing through their communities—whether by pipeline or rail,” Campbell said. “The proliferation of oil-linked rail accidents will keep the focus on the need for major regulatory improvement.
“It is important to keep the spotlight on the flawed self-regulation approach that lies at the heart of the regulatory failure responsible for Lac-Megantic. The government needs to take back authority ceded to corporations.”