Could Additional Safety Training Have Prevented the Quebec Train Disaster?

Reeling from the deadly Lac-Mégantic train crash, many are still seeking answers as to how the accident could have been avoided. While a good deal of media coverage has focused on the role of human error and brake failure, a particularly disturbing item recently emerged that points to the corporate culture of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway as an unexpected cause of this tragedy.

Penny wise, pound foolish?

The source of this information is Rick Carter, railway consultant and founder of Railroad Training Services, which assists railroads large and small in adapting new technology and operating rules to improve safety. According to Carter, he was approached by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to provide its employees with training he claims could have prevented the disaster in Lac-Mégantic.

Ironically, the training Carter was solicited to provide included the exact airbrake and handbrake safety procedures that are now at the center of the Lac-Mégantic investigation. Carter's recollection is that representatives of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway's parent company rejected his services based on the fee he demanded, even after he reduced his initial estimate by almost a third.

Carter notes that he also would have trained Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway employees in another technique, leaving a second locomotive running so that its airbrakes could have been applied, that could have prevented the Lac-Mégantic accident. In hindsight, the debilitating costs the railway faces in the aftermath of this disaster make it difficult not to view their decision to trim training costs as shortsighted.

Emergency safety directives

In response to the Lac-Mégantic crash, emergency interim measures were announced to immediately improve safety. These measures include bans on:

  • Moving dangerous goods with one-person crews
  • Leaving locomotives attached to tank cars unattended on main tracks
  • Leaving "reversers" in unattended locomotives to prevent them from moving

When carelessness plays a role in train accidents, negligence must be properly assessed to determine where liability exists. This process requires the analytical skills of trained attorneys who understand the inner workings of the railroad industry.

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