BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree announced Wednesday they met with the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board to continue to press their concerns about railroad safety in the wake of the July 6 train derailment and fires in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
Meanwhile, Gov. Paul LePage announced plans to attend a memorial service on Saturday for the victims of the tragedy and meet with officials in Quebec.
Wednesday’s meeting with NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman was a follow-up to a letter Michaud and Pingree wrote to the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration expressing their concerns about DOT-111 tank cars, which were among those that ruptured in the Quebec tragedy, according to a press release issued by the two U.S. Representatives.
Michaud and Pingree met with the railroad administration last week and will be receiving periodic updates from the agency on the progress of its inspections in Maine, they stated.
During the meeting and in a letter she wrote in response to the letter from Pingree and Michaud, Hersman discussed the agency’s cooperation with Canada’s Transportation Safety Board as well as their safety concerns with DOT-111 tank cars.
“We appreciate the responsiveness of the NTSB and all they are doing to help their Canadian counterparts put together the pieces in the aftermath of this tragedy,” Michaud and Pingree said in a joint statement after Wednesday’s meeting.
“We need to get to the bottom of exactly what happened in order to truly prevent such an accident from happening here in Maine,” they said. “We share Chairman Hersman’s concerns over DOT-111 design flaws and we call on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue a new rule enhancing the design of these cars as soon as possible.
“Regardless of the outcome of the investigation in Canada, we should all be able to agree that our railroads should be utilizing the safest cars possible when transporting hazardous materials through our communities,” they said.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has jurisdiction over railroad tank cars and is currently in the process of formulating a new rule on tank car design standards, Maine’s representatives said.
Also on Wednesday, Maine’s governor said he will attend
a memorial mass Saturday for the victims and meet with Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche and other Canadian dignitaries.
“With a heavy heart, I will visit Lac-Megantic, Quebec,” LePage said. “While a line divides our countries, it does not divide our people and it is important for Maine to support our northern neighbors during this time of need.”
Maine-Canada Trade Ombudsman Daniel Deveau, who works within the Office of the Governor, traveled to Lac-Megantic last week with a delegation from Franklin County. The delegation assessed the needs of the area in an effort to provide ongoing support for the community.
“For years these two communities have forged relationships to share culture and economic growth. And in difficult times like this those bonds extend even farther,” LePage said in a press release. “Recovery work remains, and I have pledged to the people of Lac-Megantic and the region our support.”
The LePage administration has addressed Maine’s environmental and transportation needs as they relate to railroad safety, according to the press release. Immediately after the derailment, LePage issued an executive order directing the Maine Department of Transportation to review the safety of freight rail transportation.
Additionally, Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt has sent a letter to all five freight railroads operating in Maine requesting review and submission of best practices regarding the securing of parked freight trains.
A direct line of communication has been established between MaineDOT and the Quebec Ministry of Transportation’s Rail office to discuss safety concerns and improvements, as well as operational concerns of moving rail traffic in the state and in Quebec with the Maine, Montreal and Atlantic line out of service in Lac-Megantic.
The Department of Environmental Protection, under the direction of Commissioner Patricia Aho, has said that in the event of a similar disaster in Maine, the DEP would immediately respond to minimize the impacts to natural resources and the environment.
“The department has 25 responders who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and are trained to respond to oil and hazardous materials spills of all sizes,” Aho said. “Mainers can be assured that DEP is proactive about protecting our significant natural resources.
As a result of the increase in barrels of crude oil shipped by rail in Maine, DEP created a rail response coordination team to develop comprehensive spill response maps, strategies and plans to be prepared in the event of an oil spill.
Members of the Response Division rode with Maine Montreal and Atlantic in high rail cars along the route from the Canadian border to Greenville and identified points of access and areas to stage equipment. DEP is also using mapping software to overlay sensitive environmental receptors near the rail lines, according to the press release.
Maine’s air, land and water quality has not been affected by the events in Quebec, the press release stated.