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Railway behind Lac-Mégantic derailment was cited for brake violations

A man walks down the railway tracks in Lac-Mégantic, Que., on July 12, 2013.


The company whose train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Que., received multiple warnings about brake violations in the decade before the devastating accident.

Transport Canada sent the notices to Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway between 2004 and 2009, and again in 2011 and 2012, according to documents obtained by Radio-Canada. One of the violations occurred in the community of Nantes, which is the town where the train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic was parked before it came loose from its brakes and began sliding down the tracks.

The runaway train careered down a slope and derailed in the centre of the small Quebec town, causing a series of explosions that killed 47 people. The train had been hauling crude oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota, which officials have since confirmed was more volatile than traditional crude.

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The Transport Canada warnings obtained by Radio-Canada address section 112 of the Canadian Rail Operating Rules, which requires that a "sufficient number" of hand brakes be applied to prevent a train from moving. The rules do not specify how many brakes a railway operator should use, and instead say they should test the effectiveness of the brakes to make sure the train will remain in place.

Asked about the violations during Wednesday's Question Period in the House, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said the Conservative government has "done a lot" to fund rail safety. "I would like to again reiterate that if MMA is found to have violated the rules and regulations of this country, it will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of our law," she said.

Ms. Raitt's department has faced significant criticism since the accident took place. Last fall, the Auditor-General slammed Transport Canada for weak audit and inspection practices. And after the Lac-Mégantic accident, a Globe and Mail investigation documented how a rapid increase in shipments of volatile Bakken crude created new risks that Transport Canada had not addressed.

For example, shipments of volatile and potentially explosive crude were not previously required to have specialized emergency response plans. Ms. Raitt told The Globe several months ago that a new emergency-response plan would be in place for accidents involving crude oil by the middle of 2014.

Two weeks ago, MM&A filed a complaint with a U.S. bankruptcy court, claiming it would have behaved differently had it known the crude oil it was carrying was particularly volatile.

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