Federal rail inspectors taking close look at Maine tracks after Quebec explosion

Federal Safety Administration train cars pass Saliba's on Front Street in Bangor Friday morning.
Federal Safety Administration train cars pass Saliba's on Front Street in Bangor Friday morning. Buy Photo
Posted July 26, 2013, at 12:19 p.m.
Last modified July 26, 2013, at 6:34 p.m.

Teams of federal railroad inspectors are examining tracks this week in response to the runaway train that killed an estimated 50 people in Quebec earlier this month, a state official said Friday.

The Federal Railroad Administration brought its own office train into Bangor on Friday as its inspectors fanned out across the state. Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said the intensive inspections began this week and will continue through most of next week.

“It’s all across the board and state,” Talbot said Friday. “They are really doing their own thing. It is focused inspections, really hands-on inspection of the tracks.”

The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic freight train that destroyed most of the center of Lac-Megantic when several of its 72 oil tankers exploded spurred the inspections, which began almost immediately after the July 6 disaster. The tracks that train ran on don’t appear to have caused the accident, but the disaster, Talbot said, provides opportunity for the review.

FRA spokesman Kevin Thompson did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment on Friday.

Several Canadian and U.S. agencies are investigating the Hermon-based railway. Canadian police raided the railway’s Canadian office on Thursday. Sgt. Benoit Richard of the provincial police, Surete du Quebec, told reporters that about 15 people had raided the MMA building in Farnham, Quebec, about 40 miles east of Montreal, “to gather evidence to support criminal charges.”

No similar probes by police agencies appear to have occurred in the U.S., according to officials. Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said state police have not been asked to accompany Canadian police on any searches of MMA’s Maine offices. An FBI spokeswoman from that agency’s Boston office did not immediately return a message.

Foreign police agencies are typically escorted in their service of search warrants in the U.S., once a U.S. court grants permission for the search.

Two state transportation inspectors are accompanying the FRA inspection teams as they comply with Gov. Paul LePage’s executive order seeking a comprehensive review of state rail safety, Talbot said.

“We are data mining with them. They have been very cooperative in sharing all the information that we are looking for,” Talbot said.

No significant problems appear to have yet been detected, but state inspectors won’t really know that for some time, until they examine the data they are compiling, Talbot said.

“Once we get all the data, we will start looking through it and submit the information to the governor or the legislature,” he said.

The transportation report will be completed in less than 90 days, Talbot said.

Information from Reuters is included in this report.

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