Canada toughens rail safety rules after Quebec disaster

An inspector from Transport Canada takes notes from samples collected as part of their investigation in the train derailment in the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec on July 11, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
An inspector from Transport Canada takes notes from samples collected as part of their investigation in the train derailment in the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec on July 11, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (REUTERS) - Canada's transport ministry beefed up its safety standards for rail companies on Tuesday following the Quebec fuel train disaster, insisting that two "qualified persons" run any train that hauls dangerous goods.

In an emergency directive, most of which takes effect immediately, the ministry also said trains hauling dangerous goods must not be left unattended on a main track.

The Quebec disaster, in which 47 people died, occurred early on July 6 after a single engineer parked his train on a main line near the small town Lac-Megantic.

The train, consisting of 5 locomotives and 72 cars of crude oil, rolled away, accelerated into the center of the little lakeside town, derailed and exploded.

The new directive is line with last week's recommendations from the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, which has been investigating the cause of the crash, the deadliest rail accident in North America for more than 20 years.

Investigators are still searching through the town for clues to the crash, but they have said the train's handbrakes are one focus of their probe.

In its directive, Transport Canada also said operators must ensure that unattended locomotives cannot be moved and that hand brakes are set on any train left unattended for more than an hour.

Transport Canada gave operators five days to ensure that only authorised personnel could enter the front locomotive of a train that had been parked unattended on a main line or on a siding.

"The department is committed to working with the rail industry to examining any other means of improving rail safety,"the ministry said in a statement.

The provincial government in Quebec says about 5.7 million litres of oil leaked into the air, soil and water in and around Lac-Megantic after the crash.

The train was operated by small rail company Montreal Maine & Atlantic, which has itself questioned whether the engineer, Mr Tom Harding, set enough brakes to hold the train in place.

A lawyer for Harding says his client has been interviewed by police as a witness and not as a suspect.