Rail safety must be priority after Lac-Mégantic disaster: mayor

by Reuters
Tuesday, 19 August 2014 21:24 GMT

By Allison Lampert

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Quebec, Aug 19 (Reuters) - It was the final report that was supposed to bring closure to this small town after an explosive train derailment claimed 47 lives and ignited a North American debate on the transport of crude by rail.

But the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's report on Tuesday detailing the July 2013 tragedy is also the start of a new phase in which municipal leaders, such as Lac-Mégantic's Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche, push to make stronger proposed rail safety standards a reality.

Roy-Laroche, the petite, soft-spoken mayor of this town of 6,000 spoke to reporters on Tuesday about "grieving," but also demanded action from the rail industry as well as Transport Canada, the federal transportation ministry and industry regulator.

"We will do everything in our power to make sure that rail security is a priority for communities in Quebec, Canada and the United States," she told reporters in this town located about 160 miles (250 km) east of Montreal.

As her press conference began, the sound of a train whistle was heard in the background, a reminder of the locomotives that continue to pass through the town, partly on a new line of track to replace the stretch destroyed in the derailment.

But the railcars passing through currently do not carry dangerous cargo. Roy-Laroche said she would object to oil-by-rail shipments passing through the town, but she does not know whether her objections could stop such trips.

She also urged the public to ensure that new commitments to rail safety would not resemble hastily forgotten New Year's resolutions.

"I urge the municipalities to remain vigilant," she said. "Since the derailment, we repeat that we do not want the transport of dangerous goods by rail to be carried out at the expense of the security of the population," she said. "We want to be safe in our homes."

She called for the TSB's latest recommendations to be carried out, along with the need for "profound change" in the culture of Transport Canada and the rail companies.

Earlier on Tuesday, the TSB called for Transport Canada to do a more thorough job in auditing the safety management systems of rail companies.

Since the explosion destroyed half of Lac-Mégantic's historic downtown, new commercial zones have sprung up in the past year. Green, blue and white "Support Lac-Mégantic" stickers dot car windows here.

Contaminated land near the site of the explosion is now fenced off with large sections of the town transformed into construction sites. A recently unveiled boardwalk runs from the site of the explosion to Lac Mégantic's sports center where Roy-Laroche spoke.

"All those resources invested in the repairs of the town should have been invested in prevention," she said, adding: "The people that we lost would still be with us." (Editing by Randall Palmer, G Crosse)

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