Letter to the Editor to the Globe and Mail

Re: March 7th & 8th articles related to the accident in Lac-Mégantic

Dear Editor,

In Grant Robertson’s two recent articles, he writes that “the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster (…) could have been prevented by a simple 10-second safety procedure,” and that activating the automatic air brakes on the train’s more than 70 rail cars would have been enough to hold the train in place for at least a day, or considerably longer.

The final TSB investigation report deals at length with the train securement rules in general, which insist that unattended equipment be secured with hand brakes (which are mechanical devices), and not secured with air brakes due to their lack of reliability. Air brakes are known to leak. And the rate of leakage is completely unpredictable on any given rail car, at any given time. Since there are other solutions that are permanent, it is preferable that railways use ones that would ensure that equipment is secured for indefinite periods. For this reason, we object to the assertion that these "would have been a sufficient back-up to the hand brakes."

Over the years, there have been a number of rail car runaways caused by air brakes that have leaked. That’s why, in our August 2014 recommendation, we called on Transport Canada to require railways to put in place additional physical defenses to prevent runaway trains. This could mean things like wheel chocks, automatic derails, or modern braking technology. Whatever form this takes, a secondary defense to prevent runaway trains must be a guarantee, and air brakes are not that.

Sincerely,

Kathy Fox
Chair, Transportation Safety Board of Canada