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Canadian investigators seek reasons for "abnormal" blast and fire at Lac-Megantic

02 August 2013

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said on August 1 it was focusing on the nature of the fuel cargo as well as the brakes, tanker cars, and locomotive in its investigation into the train crash at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people. The TSB has now concluded work on the site of the July 6 train explosion.

Photo: TSB
Photo: TSB

TSB officials told a news conference that its investigation would last for months and that it was too early to draw conclusions.

They raised doubts about the nature of the petroleum cargo on the runaway train, which was listed as hauling 50,000 barrels of crude oil when it derailed and exploded in the small lakeside town near the Maine border. 

Ed Belkaloul, a TSB official in charge of rail operations in Quebec and the Maritimes region, said: "It would seem that the crude oil reacted in an abnormal way."

The TSB said a lab analysis of samples from tanker cars will help answer questions about the ferocity of the explosions and the fire.

Another big question facing the TSB is whether the hand brakes were properly applied on the train by the lone engineer who parked it overnight before heading to a hotel.

Investigators will also look at the crash-worthiness of the tanker cars, test brakes and wheels recovered from the wreckage, analyze the braking force required to prevent a train of that weight and size from rolling downhill, and do simulations to learn about the accident sequence.

The TSB said it will review data from the locomotive event recorder, the equivalent of a plane's "black box", and test the locomotive's speed and the reaction of the air brakes.

"We need to be thorough and it will take months," said Donald Ross, the investigator in charge at TSB. "We will find out how and why this happened so that it will hopefully never happen again."

Ross said the liquid that was supposed to be in the rail cars would not ordinarily have been flammable enough to create such large blasts. The TSB will now conduct laboratory tests and conduct simulations of the accident.

TSB investigators are looking into every aspect of the train’s journey from North Dakota.

Quebec police say they have given up the search for more bodies, after finding the remains of 42 people. Five people are still missing and presumed dead.

As the town holds funerals and begins its recovery process, questions have arisen over who will pay for the costly cleanup.

The Quebec government has ordered privately owned MMA and the fuel transport provider, World Fuel Services Corp, to finance the cleanup.

But World Fuel Services, which handled the logistics of transporting the oil from North Dakota to the intended destination in New Brunswick, has questioned the legality of the Quebec government's order.

And MMA says it is waiting for insurance money to help fund clean-up operations. But with costs and lawsuits piling up, Chairman Ed Burkhardt has suggested to CBC Radio that the railway might not survive.




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