Federal Railroad Administration warns railway to stop using one-man crews in the US

Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, speaks to the media as he arrives in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in this file photo taken July 10, 2013. Federal Railroad Administration warned the railway company to cease using one-man crews on its trains on Thursday.
STAFF | REUTERS
Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, speaks to the media as he arrives in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in this file photo taken July 10, 2013. Federal Railroad Administration warned the railway company to cease using one-man crews on its trains on Thursday.
Posted Aug. 22, 2013, at 5:05 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 22, 2013, at 6:42 p.m.

The nation’s top rail safety inspector warned the railway company that owned the train that destroyed the center of a Quebec town last month to cease using one-man crews on its trains, officials said Thursday.

Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, challenged but did not order Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway owner Ed Burkhardt to start using two-man crew operations in the U.S.

Canadian authorities ordered Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to use two-man crews for all hazardous material transportation in response to the July 6 Lac-Megantic disaster, which killed 47 people.

“Because the risk associated with this accident also exists in the United States, it is my expectation that the same safety procedures will apply to your operations here,” Szabo wrote in a letter dated Wednesday. “I look forward to your written response confirming the use of two-man crews in the United States.”

Burkhardt did not immediately respond to a message left at his office in Chicago.

A U.S. Department of Transportation spokesman said that his agency could issue an emergency order requiring Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to use two-man crews and will discuss the issue at an upcoming hearing in Washington, D.C.

The derailing of an unmanned MMA train pulling 72 tankers of light crude oil has spurred investigations and safety reviews in the U.S. and Canada. The one-man train had been parked on a main line on a steep slope outside Lac-Megantic when its brakes apparently gave out about an hour after firefighters had doused a fire aboard.

The Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order on Aug. 2 which all U.S. railroads are expected to comply with by September. It requires:

— No train hauling specified hazardous materials can be left unattended on a main track or track near a yard or terminal unless authorized.

— Railroads must submit guidelines to FRA for securing unattended trains hauling hazardous materials, including locking or disabling locomotives.

— Workers aboard trains transporting hazardous materials must report to dispatchers the number of hand brakes applied, the train’s tonnage and length, the track’s grade and terrain, relevant weather conditions, and the type of equipment being secured.

— Train dispatchers must record the information and verify that the parking securement meets the railroad’s requirements.

— Railroads must ensure that workers who secure trains participate in daily job briefings. Qualified workers must inspect all equipment that emergency responders have handled before trains can be left unattended.

A stout defender of one-man trains, Burkhardt has said such arrangements are common in many countries and the fact that the Lac-Megantic train had one engineer had nothing to do with the accident.

He also said, however, that the train’s engineers might not have set enough hand brakes to keep the train stationary. Critics have contended that a second crew member naturally would act as a backstop for the first.

The company announced on Aug. 6 that it would stop transporting oil.

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