The rail line that runs through Lac-Mégantic, the Québec community whose downtown was incinerated by a runaway oil train that killed 47 people in 2013, faces “several urgent” issues, according to a May, 2019 inspection report issued by Transport Canada and obtained by CBC.
“Inspecting the line with an ultrasound vehicle, Transport Canada detected 115 defective rails in 2015,” the national broadcaster reports. “By 2018, it had registered 253.”
“The increasing number of defective rails every year shows a heightened risk of derailment,” warned regional railway inspector Jean-René Gagnon, in his report to the Central Maine and Québec Railway (CMQ). CBC says the federal department “issued a notice on its website stating the defects were visible and ordered the CMQ increase its own ultrasonic inspections.”
CMQ subsequently “implemented appropriate measures, by undertaking repairs and applying speed restrictions,” said Transport Canada spokesperson Annie Joannette.
While Transport conducts about 30,000 rail inspections per year and takes enforcement action when necessary, Joannette said companies are responsible for the safety of their infrastructure and equipment—and a local rail safety advocacy group says that’s the problem. “Companies are just self-ruling with rail safety,” said Gilbert Carette of the Lac-Mégantic Coalition for Rail Safety, who lives close to the rail line. “We’re pushing and asking the government to take back rail inspection.”
“Transport Canada did an inspection, identified risk factors, asked the company to repair them, and the type of repair they did just camouflages the problem,” added Robert Bellefleur, another member of the coalition.
Lac-Mégantic Mayor Julie Morin said the latest report reinforced the need for a rail bypass around the town. “Yes, there are worries and it’s not just Lac-Mégantic,” she said. “For me, it’s all the municipalities of Quebec that are crossed by trains.”
CBC says the federal and provincial governments approved C$133 million for a bypass last year, and provincial environmental hearings for the project are now under way.