Canada – Runaway train derails then explodes


Film from a Quebec TV station rebroadcast by BBC and posted on YouTube by CrashDiscoveryTV.

Yesterday’s horrific railway disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada has destroyed the centre of the town. Thousands of local residents have been evacuated from a town that has a population of 6,0000. Scores of people missing with local police fearing that many of these may turn out to be fatalities.

The catastrophe has sent shivers down the spine of residents in Bialystok, eastern Poland where a head on crash between two trains in November 2010 also led to a rail tanker fire, but then only railway infrastructure was destroyed and the town miraculously escaped unscathed.



2 Responses to “Canada – Runaway train derails then explodes”

  1. Jonathan Morton Says:

    Based on current news reports, safety practices on North American railways may need to be examined more closely after this. Here’s a brief summary:

    1) The train was parked overnight, several miles from the accident site, for what appears to have been a planned crew-change or rest stop.

    2) During the crew-change, the train was left unattended, with one of the five locomotives being left running “to hold the brakes on”. This indicates to me that the loco’s “independent brake” was being relied on, rather than the continuous-automatic train brake or even handbrakes. It is also clear from this that the stop was for a substantial length of time, to warrant shutting down four locomotives for the duration.

    3) During the night, a small fire developed on the train, presumably on the running locomotive. The fire brigade were called, and in accordance with normal procedure, they shut down the locomotive in order to tackle the fire. A typical American locomotive is a multi-megawatt electric power station on wheels, so firefighters really don’t want to find that sort of power running up their water streams; shutting down the engine and disconnecting the battery are definitely preferred.

    4) With the loco shut down, the brakes subsequently leaked off, leaving the train free to roll down the hill, and it eventually derailed at a triangular junction on the edge of the town. Since it was by this time travelling at high speed, some tank wagons ruptured and sparks then ignited the leaking cargo. This led to a series of explosions (some possibly of the extremely destructive BLEVE type) and a very large fire which almost instantly engulfed several nearby buildings.

    5) The fire took several days to control and extinguish, and containment/recovery efforts are still ongoing. Access to the site is now possible for investigators, and there are reports that a criminal investigation has begun, due to suspicion that negligence had a part to play. Several people are known to have died, and there are several dozen additional missing persons who are suspected to have been in the disaster area.

    So negligence is suspected – such as using only the loco air brakes to secure the train for an extended period of being left unattended, and not the handbrakes, for example. It takes time to travel to the far end of the train to apply the handbrakes there, so the temptation to take a shortcut is there. It also takes time to recharge the brakes if the reasonable alternative of applying the train brake were used.

    It is also worth noting that firemen are not, in general, railway experts. They are experts in tackling fires and performing rescues. They would not have suspected that shutting down the engine of a locomotive would cause the train to run away. They may reasonably assume that handbrakes are applied on any vehicles, road or rail, that are intentionally left unattended.

  2. Alexander Says:

    An update on the accident in this article:

    Regards, Alexander

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