US boosts rail safety requirements after fatal Canadian crash

U.S. regulators are taking steps to prevent unintended train movement in the aftermath of a fatal Canadian crash.

Dozens of people were killed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, when the brakes on a runaway train failed, sending its locomotive skidding off the tracks. Tank cars full of oil exploded during the July crash.

In announcing an emergency order on Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said the Lac-Mégantic incident demonstrated the “substantial potential for danger that exists when an unattended train rolls away and derails resulting in the sudden release of hazardous materials into the Environment.”  

FRA ordered that crews stay with trains carrying hazardous materials on a mainline track or siding outside a yard or terminal until the railroad develops a plan that identifies specific locations and circumstances in which it is “safe and suitable” to leave a train unattended.

FRA will monitor those plans, but does not intend to approve them, the agency said.

FRA also ordered additional measures to secure unattended trains, including a requirement that locomotive cabs on unattended trains must be locked.

When trains are left unattended, employees will have to inform dispatchers of the number of hand breaks applied, the tonnage and length of the train, and relevant terrain, track and weather conditions.

Out of approximately 2.2 million shipments of hazardous material transported by rail in the U.S. during 2011, FRA said there were 20 accidents in which a hazardous material was released.