Commuter Express or Terror Train?

In the wake of the tragic explosion of a train in the Quebec village of  Lac-Megantic — a place that resembles tiny Oxford,  New York in many respects, Irving Wesley Hall published the following article on behalf of the Oxford Visionaries in the Norwich Evening Sun.

A list of sources for Mr. Hall’s article, including information that was not included in the published version, follow the text.

Oxford 2013 Election Journal Op Ed Series (#1)

Commuter Express or Terror Train?

Irving Wesley Hall, Oxford Village

          Do you feel guilty when someone else’s tragedy makes you appreciate your own good fortune? That’s how we felt in early July when we saw the Evening Sunphotograph of the horrible railroad explosion and devastating fire in Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, Canada. Lac-Mégantic (pronounced lock-megan-TEEK) was a picturesque rural village 150 miles east of Montreal just west of the Maine border.

            Before the runaway oil tanker train derailed, igniting explosions and fires that destroyed the downtown and forty homes, Lac-Mégantic looked like Oxford Village. Proud church steeples towered above tree-lined streets with single family homes nestled among rolling green hills. A century-old railroad track ran right through the middle. Like Oxfordians the residents never worried about the railroad in their peaceful town before a wall of flaming crude oil incinerated fifty of their neighbors.

            Where there were houses in Lac-Mégantic before Saturday 1:14am July 6 there are now a few blackened bricks. All that remains of entire blocks before the runaway train jumped the tracks and burst into flames are strands of twisted metal. Century-old majestic trees are now charred stumps and matchstick branches. Along the village’s river view boardwalk, melted steel frames are left where park benches used to seat elderly folks and young lovers.

            The once thriving restaurants and businesses that included the Musi-Café, a library, a real estate office, a funeral parlor, and picturesque clapboard cottages and homes are now black debris. Does that neighborhood remind you of Fort Hill Park, our library, churches, Middle School, firehouse and the railroad depot home to our own Oxford historical society–all located a few hundred feet from our presently unused rail tracks?

Diane Roy is the chairwoman of Lac-Mégantic’s library board. Her three employees and 45 volunteers were getting ready to move 60,000 books and precious archives from the two-floor building near the railway to a bigger and more convenient location. Like our Oxford Memorial Library, it housed their community’s documented history. High school students could view baptism records that came over with colonists from France in the 17th century.

But one archival collection was particularly dear to the librarian’s heart.

A local newspaper reported her sorrow.  

“For the longest time, I kept at my home letters my uncle had written to my grandmother when he was a prisoner of war during World War II,” said Roy, 65, her voice breaking. “But then, just recently, I brought them to the library so my uncle’s grandchildren would be able to view them whenever they wished. I was actually scared they might get destroyed in a fire if I kept them in my house.”

Now, nothing remains of Lac-Mégantic’s library but memories, tears and ashes.

            The Musi-Café–like Oxford’s popular Stadium Sports Bar, Roma’s, Hoppie’s, and 6 On the Square–was crowded with people when it was vaporized by exploding fossil fuel that sent a fireball 200 hundred feet into the air.

            Most of the homes destroyed by the blast no longer exist. “The houses have completely disappeared,” said a rescue worker. “There is nothing left. Not even a book or a piece of paper.”

            “There are still cars filled with gasoline,” said Sûreté du Québec Sgt. Michel Brunet later about the hazardous scene. “There are still 10 to 15 buildings that have six feet of fuel in the basement. We have to empty all of them to see if there are any bodies in there.”

Before that Saturday morning, these “bodies” had names, joys, dreams, disappointments. Now hundreds of rescue workers are using garden rakes to find their remnants. Families of the missing were asked to produce personal items that could contain the missing person’s DNA, such as baseball caps, toothbrushes, razors and combs. Lives gone; dreams shattered.

Many of us have dreamed of a quiet commuter and sightseeing train running through the Village and Town of Oxford along revitalized Utica-Binghamton railroad tracks. Modern technology enables electric trains to run on renewable energy. Rail lines can be community-owned and publicly regulated utilities.

            Lawrence Wilcox, an Oxford gas lease-holder, is Chair of the Chenango County Board of Supervisors. Did you know that his County Board is aggressively seeking to “revitalize” the Susquehanna & Western Railroad with public funds but under corporate ownership and explicitly to transport loaded tankers for the area’s expected fracking boom? Compressed, liquified “natural” gas is infinitely more volatile than crude oil. Imagine what would remain of Oxford if 72 railroad tanker cars of compressed methane exploded downtown? What if a packed east side Oxford Academy school bus was patiently waiting at the crossing for the train to pass?

            Quebec’s deadly train derailment dumped tons of crude oil into the nearby Lake Mégantic and the Chaudière River in what officials call an unprecedented environmental disaster for the province. Rescue efforts were hindered by toxic fumes, volatile chemicals, and soil deeply contaminated by oil and benzene.

            Officials issued a boil-water advisory for the whole town. Widely circulated photos showed gobs of gooey brown oil in the Chaudière River. The toxic fallout from the sky prompted Quebec Public Security to urge residents to wash thoroughly vegetables grown in their private gardens.

            Canadian environmental groups say that the cancer-causing impact on the region’s water and air will last for many years. A representative warned, “It gets into the ecosystem, it gets into the water, it gets into the soil,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “Depending on the amount of oil spilled, the effects can be big, and they can mitigate the damage but not get rid of them entirely.”

What did the good citizens Lac-Mégantic do to deserve this fate?


What can Chenango County residents do to avoid a railroad catastrophe like theirs?

Plenty, starting the minute you lay down this newspaper.

The folks in little Lac-Mégantic entrusted their lives and property to their government representatives and outsiders. They assumed the railroad’s owners were as concerned about human safety as corporate profits. They were wrong, and so are Chenango County’s boosters of giant gas drilling and transportation corporations.

The terror train was owned by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway company with headquarters in the United States. It had five engines, a buffer car and 72 tank cars loaded with 50,000 barrels of crude oil and chemicals fracked from North Dakota’s Bakken shale. After the ill-fated train left the American fracking fields, it passed through Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and Montreal on its way to a refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

In 2010, the corporation cut the number of workers it employs to man its trains in half.

The company saved $4.5 million by cutting its crew members in Canada and the United States from two conductors down to one. How could a kilometer-long train carrying deadly cargo over long distances legally be tended by only one employee? How could he be legally permitted to leave the train unattended overnight to sleep in a local hotel?

The recklessness of today’s North American corporations is no accident. As the rich get richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class disappears, corporate lobbyists have plenty of money and power to eliminate environmental, labor and safety standards and oversight. They have felt free to institute massive lay-offs to maximize profits. Inspectors later found loose rails and rotten timber along the Lac-Mégantic tracks.

Another clear safety oversight is the continued use of DOT-111 tanker cars to carry oil and gas despite repeated warnings from inspectors. Canada’s Transportation Safety Board put it bluntly in a 2009 report: “The susceptibility of 111A tank cars to release product at derailment and impact is well documented. The transport of a variety of the most hazardous products in such cars continues.”

These tankers make up about 70 percent of the U.S. and Canadian fleet.  Since 2009, the number of train cars carrying fossil fuel hauled by major railroads jumped from about 10,000 a year to a projected 200,000 last year and thousands more in 2013. There is legally nothing to prevent these same rail tankers speeding crude oil, methane, deadly chemicals and fracking fluid through Utica, Sherburne, Norwich, Oxford, Greene, Sidney and Binghamton.

As one American official complained, “We have very limited regulatory authority over rail, and this is true for all of the states. We can’t tell railroads where they can take freight, [and] we can’t tell railroads what they can bring in as freight. Because the railways are governed exclusively at the federal level; we’re pre-empted.”

Another reported “They’ve been using old rail cars to ship oil, despite the fact that regulators warned the federal government they were unsafe, as far back as 20+ years ago.” A more recent report by a federal agency reminded the government that the cars could be “subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials.” All these official warnings were ignored by greedy petroleum executives.

What can we do? Remember, we the people…which includes those of us who are part of a village, town, and county.  Little communities like Lac-Mégantic and Oxford have to look out for our own interests and we have to elect local leaders willing to do so and to vote out of office those who will not. Ironically, Quebec province is one of the few places in Canada that currently bans the “fracking” that was used to extract the Dakotan oil, poisonous chemicals and benzene that devastated Lac-Mégantic.

            Yes, we felt guilty when the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic made us appreciate our own good fortune. But then we realized that Oxford Village‘s new zoning laws passed in February prohibiting the transportation and storage of explosive methane and carcinogenic frack fluid were not the result of dumb luck. They were the result of our neighbors educating themselves about the dangers of fracking. We elected Village Mayor Terry Stark and the enlightened Village Board. They listened to the community’s concerns and answered every one of our questions about gas drilling. They took the courageous step of enacting the first—and so far only–ban on gas drilling in Chenango County.

            But we live in a democracy. Not every villager agreed with the board. In June, a slate of write-in candidates, generally thought to be pro-fracking, challenged three incumbents. In a record-breaking voter turnout, these local gas supporters were overwhelmingly defeated.

            Now Oxford faces another contested election, this time for Oxford Town Supervisor and two seats on the Town Board. Both Village and Town residents vote for these positions. Over the past year, the present town board members—including three lease holders–have refused to answer more than one hundred written questions about the possible risks of gas drilling to our air, water, soil, health and safety.

            We all need to participate in this election.

            Paul Brennan and Ron Charles are challenging incumbent John Hofmann in the Town Republican  Primary September 10. Hofmann holds a gas lease with Chesapeake Energy. At a recent board meeting, a citizen reminded him that Chinese investors had recently purchased major shares in Chesapeake and asked if he was looking forward to profiting from selling gas to China. If we misunderstood his tape-recorded enthusiastically affirmative answer, he should clarify his position on self-interest vs. common good. We’ll correct the record in a future article in this election series.

            Brennan and Charles will need Village votes to win the Republican Primary. Where do these two candidates stand on transporting gas by rail through the Town and Village? On fracking our town?

            According to last week’s Evening Sun, Oxford Town Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox—a Norse Energy gas lease holder–actively supports reviving the railroad. Where does he stand on transporting gas, deadly chemicals and frack fluid through Chenango County? Retired Oxford teacher and historian Fred Lanfear is challenging Wilcox for Supervisor. Where does he stand on gas drilling?

            Last year our Oxford Town and Village boards spent $10,000 for SUNY Syracuse faculty and graduate students to meet with dozens of Oxfordians, including high school students representing our future, to begin revising our joint Comprehensive Plan. Those of us who participated prioritized the following goals:

·         “Establish a locally based economy that is creative, diverse and sustainable and provides employment opportunities for a range of skill and education levels, and

·         Commence a transparent and respectful process of facilitated community dialogue about hydraulic fracturing as part of the economic development plan for the Town.”

            If you care about our community and future generations, share your ideas about the Comprehensive Plan with the boards, register to vote, contribute your time and money to candidates who share your values and go to the polls on September 10 and November 5.

             Although we never knew the victims of Lac-Mégantic, an informed and responsible electorate is the best way to honor them.

            (A dozen Oxford residents contributed to this article. You will find links to the multiple sources used at You can contact the Oxford 2013 Election Journal writers at Join the discussion! Send your comments to Brian Golden, Editor, at or sound off for “30 Seconds” at (607) 334-8122.) 



Commuter Express or Terror Train?



Here are the most useful sources we used to write this piece and some fascinating information that didn’t make the final article. IWH



Trains carrying more oil across U.S. raise concerns amid North Plains boom


The Associated Press


December 28, 2012


BILLINGS, Mont. — Energy companies behind the oil boom on the Northern Plains are increasingly turning to an industrial-age workhorse — the locomotive — to move their crude to refineries across the U.S., as plans for new pipelines stall and existing lines can’t keep up with demand.


Delivering oil thousands of miles by rail from the heartland to refineries on the East, West and Gulf coasts costs more, but it can mean increased profits — up to $10 or more a barrel — because of higher oil prices on the coasts. That works out to roughly $700,000 per train.



5 dead, about 40 missing in Quebec oil train derailment


Benjamin Shingler


Associated Press


July 7, 2013


LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec — About 40 people were still missing a day after a runaway train derailed in Quebec, igniting explosions and fires that destroyed a busy downtown district and killed five people. Police said a higher death toll was inevitable, and authorities feared the number might soar once they’re able to reach the hardest-hit areas. Worries remained over the status of two oil-filled train cars.



Deadly Derailment in Quebec Underlines Oil Debate




New York Times


July 7, 2013


A 2009 report by the National Transportation Safety Board about a Canadian National derailment in Illinois called the design of those tank cars “inadequate” and found that it “made the cars subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials.”Unlike pipeline proposals, however, the escalation of rail movements of oil, including light oil shipments from the Bakken fields as well as from similar unconventional, or tight, oil deposits in Canada, is not covered by any regular government or regulatory review.



Lac-Megantic: Ecological Tragedy Unfolds Amid Human Loss


Jon Queally


Common Dreams


July 8, 2013


Dozens still missing as questions emerge about scale of environmental damage



Lac-Mégantic casualties include Quebec town’s history


Jacques Gallant


Toronto Star


July 8, 2013



Focus on earlier blaze in Quebec train derailment




Associated Press


July 9, 2013



Propane suspected in Canada explosions


Tom Bell


Maine Today


July 9, 2013


Evidence mounts that the runaway train slammed into other railroad cars carrying liquid propane. When a runaway train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, early Saturday, a series of explosions flattened the town’s center.


Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, Saturday, July 6, 2013. A large swath of Lac Megantic was destroyed Saturday after a train carrying crude oil derailed, sparking several explosions and forcing the evacuation of up to 1,000 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)


What caused the blasts that left 13 people dead and dozens missing?


Government investigators and railroad officials have yet to say anything about the matter, leaving many to assume that the cause was the 73-car train’s cargo of crude oil.


But Marie-Eve Boucher, who lives near the train yard that was at the center of the disaster, told the Toronto Star that she looked out her window after the ground began to shake and saw flames licking a tank car filled with propane.


She and her husband ran to a nearby shopping mall, about a mile from the downtown, and then heard an “enormous explosion.”


Her account confirms what Kevin Burkholder sees when he studies photographs taken from the air Saturday while fire crews doused the smoldering wreckage.


The mainline track on which the train was traveling remained relatively intact, he said, but a side track, known as a “storage track,” was torn apart by an explosion at the point where the mainline curves, said Burkholder, editor of Vermont-based Eastern Railroad News, an online magazine that covers the industry for rail enthusiasts.


He said it appears that the train derailed at the curve and slammed into railroad cars carrying liquid propane. He said a Lac-Megantic resident, a “rail fan” who monitors activity at the yard, told him that he saw four propane cars Friday on the same storage track.


Burkholder would not name his source, but said the Lac-Megantic resident had given accurate information about train movements in the past.


He said liquid propane is transported under pressure and is more likely than crude oil to create the kind of explosion that destroyed much of downtown Lac-Megantic. Crude oil is not transported under pressure, he said.



Train company averages two crashes per year


Maine Press Herald


July 9, 2013


As confirmed deaths reach 13 in the small Canadian town, investigators look into whether a fire an hour before the explosions may have played a role. The train’s operator, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, based in Hermon, Maine, has averaged almost two crashes or derailments per year over the past decade with at least $50,000 damage in each, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. No one died in any of the previous accidents.



Oil and Blood in Lac-Mégantic


Michael Lee-Murphy


July 9, 2013


Oil and gas flow throughout the Canadian economy like blood through the body, powering the industries which depend on those resources. The blood of oil is pumped through the body of the country by the veins of pipelines, shipping routes, railways and trucking routes.


Sometimes these veins tear, and the blood spills.


In the middle of the night on Friday in the eastern Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, one such vein tore in the worst possible way.



Disaster in Quebec Reveals Regulatory Lapse


Zoe Carpenter


The Nation


July 9, 2013


It doesn’t appear that federal regulators are doing a particularly good job. One clear safety oversight is the continued use of DOT-111 tanker cars despite repeated warnings from inspectors. Canada’s Transportation Safety Board put it bluntly in a 2009 report: “The susceptibility of 111A tank cars to release product at derailment and impact is well documented. The transport of a variety of the most hazardous products in such cars continues.” These tankers make up about 70 percent of the US and Canadian fleet.



Lac Megantic explosion has shaken town’s environment


Eric Andrew-Gee


Candian Star


July 9 2013


Raining soot is just one of the environmental concerns facing many of the 1,200 or so residents who returned home Tuesday after the evacuation order was lifted for parts of Lac-Mégantic.



Lac-Megantic Explosions: 100,000 Litres Of Oil Dumped Into Waterway After Disaster


Megan Dolski and Andy Blatchford


The Canadian Press


July 11, 2013


Quebec’s deadly train derailment has dumped waves of crude oil into nearby water bodies in what officials call an unprecedented environmental disaster for the province.


Workers dragged yellow booms Tuesday across different parts of the Chaudiere River in an attempt to contain the gunky crude that continues to creep downstream with the speedy current.


There are also still traces of fire in the pipes that evacuate rainfall, as well as in the town’s sewage system.


The banks of Lake Megantic and the Chaudiere River are both contaminated, as is water flowing out of them.



Pipeline on Rails” Plans for the Railroads Explode in Quebec






July 11, 2013


The boom in oil fracking and tar sands has lured the great and small to the rails in search of profits and jobs.


In the case of Rail World, taking shortcuts is official policy. The CEO is a staunch advocate of single employee crews and remote control. The train that exploded in Québec had only one crew member, the engineer in charge of the whole train, saving the expense of a conductor, a job still the rule on most Class 1 roads. Not that they major railroads aren’t eyeing getting rid of this job. Far from it.


The cross craft caucus of rail workers, Railroad Workers United, has been campaigning against the use of single employee crews since 2009 when conductor Jared Boehlke was killed in the yard where I worked. Jared was a remote control operator working alone attempting a repair. Now these cost cutting plans by the railroad carriers have been exposed by a horrendous disaster to a shocked general public who now see that not only railworkers are at risk from the cost cutting railroads. If the plans of the railroad industry to take advantage of the delay in building the Keystone pipeline now are nixed, the industry has only its own profit driven greed to blame, personified by the CEO of Rail World.


Moving dangerous cargo whether by rail or pipeline can never be perfectly safe. But in a capitalist economy where profits rule and bean counters run corporations like Rail World we can be sure that more accidents like that in Québec will happen.



Quebec’s Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Not Just Tragedy, But Corporate Crime


Martin Lukacs


The Guardian/UK


July 12, 2013


At the root of the explosion is deregulation and an energy rush driving companies to take ever greater risks. The recklessness of these corporations is no accident. Under the reign of neoliberalism over the last 30 years, governments in Canada and elsewhere have freed them from environmental, labour and safety standards and oversight, while opening up increasingly more of the public sphere for private profit-seeking.



Crude oil from the Lac-Mégantic explosion flowed down the Chaudière River Tuesday, threatening towns and ecosystems downstream.


Marni Soupcoff


Huffington Post


July 13, 2013


Adding Insult to Grave Injury in Lac-Megantic


This week, while Toronto recovered from rain, floods, abandoned Ferraris, and snakes on trains, Lac-Megantic, Quebec, was facing a far more serious challenge: making sense of the loss of up to 50 lives after a runaway oil tanker derailed and exploded in the town on July 6. The devastating accident has led to much discussion of pipelines and energy use, with HuffPost bloggers offering opinons on all sides of the debate about the safest way forward. What’s probably easier to agree on is that The Rail World Inc., the company involved with the derailment, could use a lesson or two in public relations. It took company president Ed Burkhardt four days to get himself to Lac-Megantic, and he spent those days casting blame on the town’s fire department and making bad jokes about having to wear a bullet proof vest whenever he did visit.



Lac Megantic Oil Train Explosion: Consequences of Deregulation


Phil Mattera


July 13, 2013


The Smog Blog


Burkhardt is a living symbol of the pitfalls of deregulation, deunionization, privatization and the other features of laissez-faire capitalism. He first made his mark in the late 1980s, when his Wisconsin Central Railroad took advantage of federal railroad deregulation, via the 1980 Staggers Rail Act, to purchase 2,700 miles of track from the Soo Line and remake it into a supposedly dynamic and efficient carrier.



Lac Mégantic ‘may well be the most devastating rail accident in Canadian history’




Graeme Hamilton


July 13, 2013


LAC-MÉGANTIC, Que. — Wendy Tadros, chairwoman of the Transportation Safety Board, said on Friday the Lac-Mégantic crash “may well be the most devastating rail accident in Canadian history.” She said it will take “months or more” to determine the cause.Trains have long been a part of life here, but after last Saturday they will forever be a symbol of death. Mr. Fluet knows he is lucky to have escaped with his life, but his former co-worker, Michel Guertin, was still inside Musi-Café and is presumed dead. It’s enough to make Mr. Fluet nostalgic for the days when all the worst trains did was blacken the sky.



Firefighters describe ‘colossal task’ of battling ‘unprecedented’ fire that engulfed downtown Lac-Megantic


Megan Dolski


July 13, 2013


Canadian Press


In 1979, a 106-car train filled with chemicals — both explosive and poisonous — derailed in Mississauga, Ont., forcing the evacuation of over 200,000 people.


Flames sprawled across 1.5 kilometres, but miraculously no one was killed and only a few buildings were destroyed.



More inconvenience and risk than advantages’: Quebec towns question relationship to railways following Lac-Mégantic tragedy


Nicolas Van Praet


Financial Post


July 13, 2013


In Farnham, Quebec, the municipal council has passed a decree halting all train transport on its territory until federal regulators can prove it is safe.


“As a community, we used to have a direct economic interest from the railway. No more,” said Michel Gilbert, mayor of Mont Saint-Hilaire, a town on Montreal’s south shore where cargo trains cut through residential areas and the only scheduled rail stop is a commuter line. “Now there is much more inconvenience and risk than advantages. There are no advantages.”



Locals vow to rebuild after local library, archives razed in Lac-Megantic fire


The Canadian Press


July 14, 2013


LAC-MEGANTIC, – The fatal train disaster that obliterated much of Lac-Megantic also destroyed the local library, including irreplaceable items outlining the history of the town and the surrounding area.


Nothing is left of the building — which bordered the railway tracks — except ash.


Including books, some 60,000 items are gone.


The library was next door to the Musi-Cafe, where dozens of patrons and employees died after the July 6 tragedy.


It served about 3,000 people a month. A dozen computers in a lab room were in use all the time.


“We are still a region that is quite far-flung and not particularly wealthy,” Roy said. “So people could come and it was always full because not everyone in town had the means to buy themselves a computer.”



Opinion: Public safety is non-negotiable


Dylan Jones


July 15, 2013


Vancouver Sun


Excavators at work in the rubble in Lac-Mégantic, Que., Monday.


Photograph by: Jacques Boissinot , THE CANADIAN PRESS


My sense of outrage at the Lac Mégantic tragedy just keeps growing. While the facts are still being uncovered, it appears that an unmanned train with a volatile cargo was routinely parked on a hill above a town with only brakes to avert disaster. How can this reflect the Canadian attitude about the value of human life?


There will likely be criminal negligence proceedings. Yet a system that allows such risks must itself be challenged.



How Edward Burkhardt Is Making The Lac Megantic Accident Even Worse


John Baldoni


July 15, 2013


Forbes Now


I write about the impact leaders have on those they lead. If you want to know why there is a perceived crisis of leadership you have only to look at the behavior of Edward Burkhardt, president of Rail World, which owns the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MM&A) railroad. It was a runaway train owned by MM&A that destroyed the little town of Lac Megantic in early July.



Hauling oil is not like hauling potatoes


Najmedin Meshkati


July 16, 2013


Ottawa Citizen


Major anthropogenic accidents are mostly caused by a multitude of factors that compromise barriers to the loss of control or breach defences for safe functioning of intended systems. On many occasions, “human error” is caused by inadequate operators’ response to unfamiliar events. These responses depend very much on the conditioning that takes place during normal work activities. The operators ’ behaviour is conditioned by the conscious decisions made by work planners or managers. Therefore, the error and the resulting accidents are, to a large extent, both the attribute and the effect of a multitude of factors. These include: poor workstation and workplace designs, unbalanced workload, complicated operational processes, unsafe conditions, faulty maintenance, disproportionate attention to production, ineffective training, non-responsive managerial systems, and poor planning. As such, it is a gross oversimplification to attribute accidents to the actions of front-line operators.



Canada faces trains, pipelines and other disasters


Elizabeth May


July 16, 2013


Agora Cosmopolitan


Every time I think of what happened in Lac-Mégantic, I have a hard time getting past the sense of total grief that a beautiful little town should have been victim of such a random, devastating and shocking event. It can really only be compared to a town being suddenly, inexplicably bombed in peacetime.


Municipal governments have a right to know what is moving through their towns. Hazardous cargoshould never be left unattended and should be (as far as is possible) diverted from town centres.


— It strikes me as bizarre that when discussing terrorist threats no scenario is so far-fetched that law enforcement and the public purse should not be engaged to avert miniscule risks. But in our day to day lives, more probable and larger risks are ignored because they fall under an area of economic-profitability.


— The mania against regulation – the call for stream-lining and fast-tracking and industry self-regulation (across many fields and not just rail transport) – needs to be replaced with a commitment to public safety and environmental protection.



Work continues at the crash site of the train derailment and fire


Justin Giovannetti


Globe and Mail


July 16, 2013


First steps through the shattered heart of Lac-Mégantic


Lac-Mégantic, Que. — The Globe and Mail


According to Inspector Michel Forget, police planned the tour to communicate the “scope of the work” left for them to do, and to help residents begin to absorb the images of a once-thriving downtown cut in half by a wall of flaming oil.


A burn line is etched through the grass of a park sloping towards Mégantic Lake. To one side, green grass, bright sunflowers and park benches.



After Lac-Mégantic, how should we regulate risk?




The Globe and Mail


July 16, 2013,


There were red flags about this increased volume of oil-by-rail even before the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. With the reality of increasing oil shipments passing through populated centres, the public has every right to know how the risks from these shipments are being managed on its behalf.


TSB rail safety statistics show a general decrease in accident rates and totals, suggesting an increase in overall rail safety. However, Lac-Mégantic painfully exhibits that risk involves not only the probability but the magnitude of a hazard. Buildings on fault lines can’t be designed just for earthquakes that are low on the Richter scale. Tail risks must be part of the equation.


Even without knowledge of the technical aspects of the disaster, what the tragedy immediately underscores is government’s essential function in regulating technological risks to public safety and the need for informed citizen engagement in managing such risks.


Residents of Lac-Mégantic appear to have been largely unaware of the hazard moving through their town. They could not bargain in advance to be compensated for the risks that loomed on their town’s rails. And the dead cannot benefit from whatever compensation might be paid after the fact.



Lac-Megantic: media allowed glimpse behind security perimeter


Inner area previously off-limits to media, public


Canadian Press


July 16, 2013, 3:15 pm


Photo 1 of 21


Work continues at the crash site of the train derailment and fire Tuesday, July 16, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Que. that left 37 people confirmed dead and another 13 missing and presumed dead.THE CANADIAN The The destruction was so shocking it even caused one local reporter to burst into tears.


Until now, access has been limited to authorities and a few politicians — including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who had compared it to a site ravaged by war.



Rail, Pipeline and Climate Disasters are Symptoms of Oily Addiction


David Suzuki


July 17, 2013


Like smokers who put off quitting until their health starts to suffer, we’re learning what happens when bad habits catch up with us. We’re witnessing the terrible effects of fossil fuel addiction every day: frequent, intense storms and floods, extended droughts, rapidly melting Arctic ice, disappearing glaciers, deadly smog and pollution, contaminated waterways and destroyed habitats. Transport accidents are also increasing as governments and industry scramble to get Photo: powazny/ Flickr)fuels out of the ground and to market as quickly as possible.


We’re not going to stop using oil overnight, and we will continue to transport it, so we must improve standards and regulations for pipelines, rail, trucks and tankers. This should include safer rail cars for moving dangerous goods. Also, many environmental groups are calling for “a comprehensive, independent safety review of all hydrocarbon transportation – pipelines, rail, tanker and truck.” But in the long run, we have to find ways to slow down. By conserving energy and switching to cleaner sources, we can start to move away from fossil fuels – and to use remaining reserves less wastefully.


That’s the discussion we need to have, rather then getting mired in debates about transport methods. As energy writer Russ Blinch noted in a Huffington Post article, “Looking at pipelines versus rail tankers is really like asking, ‘Should I drive the car with bad brakes or the one with bad tires?’”


We need to look at the big picture.



OIL SPILLS: Crude mishaps on trains spike as rail carries more oil


Mike Soraghan




July 17, 2013


The number of spills and other accidents from railroad cars carrying crude oil has skyrocketed in recent years, up from one or two a year early in the previous decade to 88 last year.


Only four of those were classified as serious by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and none involved injuries. So they didn’t even approach the human tragedy caused by a runaway oil train in Quebec earlier this month.



Lac-Mégantic investigators seek urgent rail safety review


Tearful officer describes ‘hole’ at centre of Lac-Mégantic


July 18, 2013


CBC News


Despite extreme heat, long days and toxic environment, everyone wants to help, officer says


Raitt promises to help Lac-Megantic with reconstruction



CBC News


July 19, 2013


TSB urges review of rules surrounding securing of cars, dangerous goods


“Given the importance of the safe movement of dangerous goods and the risk associated with unattended equipment, we are asking Transport Canada to review all railway operating procedures to ensure that trains carrying dangerous goods are not left unattended on the main track,” TSB lead investigator Donald Ross said.



Lac-Mégantic Victims Challenge Corporations Behind Deadly Explosion


Lauren McCauley


July 19, 2013


Common Dreams


Death toll climbs to 42 as environmental costs continue to mount


Victims of the train crashed which devastated the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec have filed suit against the corporations behind the devastation. (Photo: Reuters)Two residents of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec have filed a class action lawsuit against the corporations behind the July 6 train derailment and explosion which killed nearly fifty people and devastated the small Canadian town.


Yannick Gagne and Guy Ouellet, who together own the Musi-Cafe—a bar that was crowded with people the night it was destroyed by the blast—are seeking damages from the Maine-based Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A), Irving Oil, World Fuel Services and its subsidiary Dakota Plains Holdings, which extracted the crude oil the train was carrying.



Lac-Megantic: Federal board tells policy-makers to make rail-safety changes now


Sidhartha Banerjee


The Canadian Press


July 19, 2013


It sent Transport Canada two safety advisories asking for a pair of changes — the first being that dangerous goods should not be left unattended on a main track, and also that rail equipment be properly secured.



Lac-Mégantic timeline




The Montreal Gazette


July 20, 2013


As the grim news keeps coming out of Lac-Mégantic, check here for a running chronicle



Lac-Megantic train disaster a dark turn for rail veteran


Karl Plume, P.J. Huffstutter and Ernest Scheyder




July 21, 2013


A blinding flash of orange light jarred Weyauwega residents awake before dawn on March 4, 1996. An 81-car freight train had been barreling toward the farm town in central Wisconsin when it jumped a broken rail. The train’s propane and petroleum cargo had caught fire and exploded.


The death increased pressure on Wisconsin Central from lawmakers and regulators to improve its safety practices, including its use of one-person crews on other rail lines. In February 1998, Wisconsin Central agreed to limit the use of one-person and remote control trains on its 3,000 mile network.


Burkhardt had been among the first U.S. railroad operators to advocate for one-person crews – a practice that has now come under new scrutiny as the Lac-Megantic runaway train was staffed by one engineer.


Kevin Moore, chairman of a local chapter of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union, representing MMA workers in Maine, said Burkhardt had shared his opinion of single-person crews with him several times, including during contract negotiations.


“He thinks when you have two people in the cabin, the second person could be a distraction,” said Moore. “I’ve never seen that. The second person has always been a benefit, not a distraction.”



Lac-Mégantic derailment




From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


July 26, 2013



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