Maine rail review prompted by Quebec train explosion finds safety ‘adequate’

A train rolls along the tracks near downtown Milo last week.
Kevin Bennett | BDN
A train rolls along the tracks near downtown Milo last week. Buy Photo
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 09, 2013, at 11:08 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine – A state rail safety review Gov. Paul LePage ordered in response to a Canadian rail disaster that killed 47 people in July found no significant safety flaws in Maine’s 1,150-mile rail system, officials said Wednesday.

“It appears that existing rail safety practices are adequate, and that a tragedy like Lac-Megantic should not occur in Maine if the private railroad operators follow their own safety practices and those of the [Federal Railroad Administration],” the 16-page report states.

LePage ordered the report after a parked and unmanned Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train hauling crude oil from the Midwest lost its brakes and derailed on a sharp curve in Lac-Megantic, Quebec on July 6. The train’s detonation destroyed the center of the town and spurred safety reviews on both sides of the border.

The Maine Department of Transportation’s report is the first to be released. LePage said he was pleased with its findings.

“When that horrible event in Lac-Megantic happened, we increased the focus on the safety of the rail system in Maine,” LePage said in a statement. “But I continue to be optimistic about the steady growth of this industry, which provides good jobs and contributes to the state’s economy.”

MaineDOT, which will closely monitors the investigation into the cause of the Lac-Megantic tragedy being conducted by Transport Canada, will continue to work closely with the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure that there are timely safety inspections of Maine’s rail infrastructure throughout the state, officials said. The FRA is also conducting a review and assisting with the Canadian investigation.

Federal law governs rail activity. The FRA oversees enforcement of railroad safety regulations regarding tracks, grade crossings, mechanical and rail equipment, operating practices and procedures, and the movement of hazardous materials, officials said. Maine transportation officials assist them with this.

Prior to the Lac-Megantic tragedy, there were 1,021 FRA observations performed in 2013 from January through June on railroads in Maine. Since Lac-Megantic and LePage’s order, FRA and state inspectors made 581 additional inspections of the state’s five privately owned freight rail carriers, including MMA.

Inspectors found defects, but none that warranted rail line shutdowns, officials said. Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said the defects ranged from excess foliage blocking signage to cracks in rail lines.

He did not have a count of the number or type of defects. That information, he said, is FRA data that his agency is not allowed to release. All concerns and defects observed were sent to the railroads and FRA for correction and follow up, he said.

Ed Burkhardt, president of MMA parent company Rail World Inc., did not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday. MMA President Robert Grindrod was in court in Canada on Tuesday, a representative from his office said.

Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/10/09/business/lac-megantic-inspired-maine-rail-review-finds-safety-adequate/ printed on July 28, 2014