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The Globe and Mail

Transport Canada shuts 20 km of MM&A track in Quebec, citing safety problems

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


Transport Canada is shutting down rail traffic on nearly 20 kilometres of track owned by the company whose train crashed in Lac-Mégantic earlier this summer, saying the conditions do not meet federal safety standards.

The department inspected all active track on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic network in Quebec, after a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic on July 6, causing a series of fiery explosions that killed 47 people.

Transport Canada found "a number of areas of concern," ranging from substandard rail ties to overgrown vegetation and problems with railway crossings, according to a report summarizing the inspection. In one location, which is included in the section of track that was ordered shut down, inspectors found "clusters of defective ties" within proximity of a propane storage facility.

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The federal department ordered a 20-kilometre section of track located southeast of Montreal to be shut down until it is examined by a professional engineer "and the conditions under which a safe movement may occur have been assessed." Other problems were addressed through notices and letters of concern issued to MM&A this summer, the report says.

Residents in some of the Quebec towns located near the MM&A tracks have expressed concern about their safety in the past.

Some of the problems highlighted in the Transport Canada report echo issues raised by MM&A earlier this year about the state of its own tracks. Company records obtained by The Globe & Mail last month revealed that MM&A had issued more than a dozen internal bulletins warning train operators to travel slower than the normal speed limit to account for poor track conditions.

Earlier this week, investigators from the Transportation Safety Board revealed that the crude oil that exploded in Lac-Mégantic had been improperly classified for transportation as a less-volatile substance. In fact, the crude on the train was as flammable as gasoline.

Transport Canada used a track inspection vehicle to collect data on the track geometry and compare it with federal standards, according to the report. The assessment was completed between July 20 and July 24 and on Aug. 6 and 7.

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