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In a horrific train catastrophe that left thirteen confirmed dead and dozens still missing there has been a report that a fire was put out on the train after it had been parked for the evening.

It was after fire crews had put out the small fire and left the scene that the train had uncoupled and started its four mile path to destruction.

The train's black box is being studied to yield more clues and efforts are underway to find those still missing. Many missing may never be identified due to the intensity of the oil fueled conflagration.

The train had been parked in the village of Nantes, about 7km (four miles) from Lac-Megantic, during an overnight driver shift-change on Friday evening.

Firefighters from Nantes were later called to put out a small fire on the train, but it is not clear if that was linked to what happened next.

Sometime afterward, 73 cars carrying pressurised containers of crude oil came uncoupled from five locomotive engines, gathering speed as they rolled downhill before derailing in the heart of Lac-Megantic, about 250km east of Montreal.

An official statement from the train operator said the brakes on the locomotive had somehow completely shutdown after the engineer left the train.

This "may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place", the firm said.

I was under the impression that trains used a spring brake system that would engage the brakes in a locked position when air pressure was removed from the line. Were these spring brakes not maintained to ensure they would engage the brakes fully when air pressure was removed is a question still not answered.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Somebody's not telling the full story and (9+ / 0-)

    somebodies aren't reporting it either.

    Notice: This Comment © 2013 ROGNM

    by ROGNM on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 08:48:20 AM PDT

    •  They will know more when (3+ / 0-)

      they get info from the event recorder (black box).  I get the same feeling.  Someone's not telling the whole truth here.

      Women hold up half the sky.

      by Powered Grace on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 08:52:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  they have a lot of that now (6+ / 0-)

        they're being very tight-lipped. though according to this CBC article the locomotive was inspected the day prior to the disaster.

        some of the basic info seems to be the fire department responded to the first fire. the railway employee was on the scene. For whatever reason, they all left without turning the locomotive back on when the first fire was extinguished, and gravity took over from there.

        another article I read at the Montreal Gazette indicated the train was parked on a 1.2 degree grade--not very steep, but steep enough to get it going without breaks.

        Read that article. It gives some of the best reporting I've found thus far (if there are others, they're up behind paywalls.)

        lastly in Canada and the US I'm not sure it's even required for frieght rail providers to report on what's on their trains and whether it's hazardous or not, especially since in the US most freight rail lines are privately owned. I don't know if that's true about Canada. But I really have no idea what's on the long freight trains that come through my town daily unless it's an open carriage (and then, it's usually some kind of coal for electric power generation.) That's probably something that should change.

  •  From a Guardian Article (11+ / 0-)
    According to him, firefighters had shut down the locomotive while they battled the blaze, which was apparently caused by a broken oil or fuel line.

    This may have triggered the disaster. According to Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the train’s crew had left the engine idling to keep the air brakes pressurized so the train would not roll. As the pressure gradually “leaked off,” the air brakes failed and the train began to slide downhill, Burkhardt said.

    He said that if the engine had been shut down, “someone should have made a report to the local railroad about that.” He said the train’s operator was staying at a nearby hotel.

    Entire Article
  •  that's what i couldn't understand (6+ / 0-)

    modern train brakes are fail safe.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/...

    the Westinghouse system uses a reduction in air pressure in the train line to apply the brakes. When the engine driver applies the brake by operating the locomotive brake valve, the train line vents to atmosphere at a controlled rate, reducing the train line pressure and in turn triggering the triple valve on each car to feed air into its brake cylinder. When the engine driver releases the brake, the locomotive brake valve portal to atmosphere is closed, allowing the train line to be recharged by the compressor of the locomotive. The subsequent increase of train line pressure causes the triple valves on each car to discharge the contents of the brake cylinder to the atmosphere, releasing the brakes and recharging the reservoirs.
    Under the Westinghouse system, therefore, brakes are applied by reducing train line pressure and released by increasing train line pressure. The Westinghouse system is thus fail safe—any failure in the train line, including a separation ("break-in-two") of the train, will cause a loss of train line pressure, causing the brakes to be applied and bringing the train to a stop, thus preventing a runaway train.
    only thing i can think is the conductor left the brake lever in the wrong position, or the velve leaked, letting air in and slowly lifting the brakes
    •  As far as I know from my professional (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LilithGardener

      understanding of the same systems on trucking industry trucks is that if they were badly out of adjustment or the actuating cam was broken they are fail safe.

      Where are the maintenance and inspection records for these oil cars braking systems?

    •  several things wrong, first I was a brakeman for (2+ / 0-)

      Canadian Pacific Rlwy years ago but some things have not changed.

      First of all, all engines also have a brake on the outside of the engine's cab and even tho I was a brakeman it was the engineer that would usually tie those on while I went to tie on as many brakes as we needed based on the number of cars, the loads and the grade.
      So those engines should also have had the hand brakes on and even if that was overlooked (which was a violation of rules) it is the job of the brakeman to secure that train which means tying on enuf brakes to hold it. I got criticism many times when another crew got a train from the crew I was on because I was always putting on more brakes than they liked, but I was trained in the mindset of 'better safe than sorry'.

      I also worked in British Columbia around some of the steepest grades in North America like one coming from the Cominco smelter at Trail BC back to Nelson BC (not the steepest in that area).
       We would have to take our train up a grade in two separate pulls, taking half up into a siding then coming back down the main line for the other half to piece together with  the other half. Even tho we were going to be right back to snatch the other half (possibly within 20 minutes) I tied down plenty of brakes and because these were loads we'd dynamite the brakes (leave the air hose open on the cars we're leaving which caused all the brakes to lock).

      Yes it means we couldn't just tack back onto those cars and start pulling because the engineers would have to sit there and pump up the pressure to release the brakes (the longer the train the longer it took).

      Still it sounds like some brakes were applied and when those things are being dragged they kick out a lot of sparks. So it looks like engine (hand) brakes were not set, or maybe just on one or two, but there obviously weren't enuf brakes tied down on the train.

      We also never left engines attached to loads and it was standard procedure everywhere I worked in the Province that the engineers would pump up the brakes before giving me the signal to pull the pin on the train and that was because we also always left the pet cock (air valve for the braking system) OPEN (on cars we are leaving, not the engines of course), which threw on all the brakes on all the attached cars, emergency style.
      Then you go and tie down hand brakes and that will be so solid that sometimes you will have to bleed the air off of some cars just to get the hand brake to turn loose. So it takes more time and we got paid by the mile not by the hour so some people do cut corners.

      One more thing before this morphs into too long of a comment, how many people know what a 'derailer' is? They are probably on a train track near you and they are common on sidings in areas with a steep grade, or even in flat areas where they are before the switch (coming out of the siding) in order to keep cars from rolling out onto the main line. They are always (afaik) where hazardous materials cars are spotted to be filled. They are fixed to the track, unlocked they flip up over the rail and have a groove on top to guide the wheel of a car onto the ground before it even gets to the switch.
      If there isn't one there there should be, same thing for other areas with similar possibilities and it will ground cars instead of letting them stay on the rails.

      This obviously isn't the first time a train has been left there and those others didn't roll out and it is either the fault of the train crew or some the result of some criminal act like bleeding enough cars and/or releasing enuf brakes. Still releasing those brakes by bleeding the cars is one noisy event.

       Before I forget it if the valve was closed on the lead car that left the siding it is negligence on the part of the crew, or a criminal act. It won't matter (open or closed) if enuf brakes were bled, or enuf hand brakes released but I doubt anyone doing a criminal act like this would go and close the cock. What that would do is show that the crew didn't dynamite the brakes and why would anyone (doing the crime) think about that (shutting the valve) ?

      (My apologies for the length of the comment)

      without the ants the rainforest dies

      by aliasalias on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 01:01:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not quite springs.. (7+ / 0-)

    Each railcar has a reservoir of compressed air.  When the brakes are not engaged, the train line is pressurized with compressed air from the engine - this goes down the train line and charges the reservoir (if needed).

    As for the brakes, the compressed air in the reservoir pushes pistons that push the brake shoes against the wheels.  But the compressed air in the train line counteracts this - thus if the train line also has compressed air, the brake shoes are held off of the wheel and the train can move.

    To stop the train, normally the air pressure in the train line is reduced, which causes the air pressure in the reservoir to push the brake shoes against the wheels.

    In my own opinion, the CEO of MMA is doing a lot of CYA right now.  He is spending a lot of time saying things that make it sound like others might be at fault, but some of the things he is saying just don't make sense.  Now at this point we don't know much of anything about what the accident investigators are actually finding - we will have to wait for that information to actually be released.

    There was a story a day or so ago where the fire chief reported that there were some MMA employees present when they put out the fire - once the fire was out, the MMA employees told them that the situation was under control, and that the fire department could leave.  It was some amount of time after this that the train began to move again, but we don't have a lot in the way of details here..

  •  as to the brakes (2+ / 0-)

    i don't know if this particuar train car has manual brakes in each car.

    I do know the tanker car involved is known for design flaws. Here's an article from last September.

  •  It's unbelievable that they left it parked at the (7+ / 0-)

    top of a hill.

    I saw an article earlier today (can't remember where) where the CEO of the holding company that owns the railroad claimed they have evidence that somebody "tampered" with the train.

    That seems like a blatant effort to avoid mega liability.

    Next he'll probably be blaming the disaster on environmentalists.  You can see that coming a mile away.

    Another article I read today said that 37 people are missing and presumed "vaporized" by the huge fireball.

    The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.-Bertrand Russell

    by Timaeus on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 09:38:01 AM PDT

    •  The first post on the disaster (3+ / 0-)

      Also had a Rightwasher trying to blame "Eco-terrorists"

      What an ironic term BTW.

    •  I think it was parked where the crew went "dead" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Horace Boothroyd III

      and the PQ-ME border is along the drainage "ridge line" , i.e., all rivers in PQ flow N-NW to the St. Lawrence, and all rivers in ME flow E to the Atlantic.  If the train stopped before crossing into ME, everything behind it was "downhill" , whatever the grade.

      The various accounts of the brakes still don't seem to hold water, so to speak.  Let the TSBC do its work.

      bTw I read a local official saying it wasn't necessarily the petroleum that exploded, although some of it could have burned if the tanks ruptured; rather, it was some propane or other compressed gas tank cars parked on a siding in town that exploded when the petro tank cars derailed and hit them. Let's see what the investigation shows.

      Heal the living, and try to find the dead. What a tragedy.

      IANA RR person.

      I'm part of the "bedwetting bunch of website Democrat base people (DKos)." - Rush Limbaugh, 10/16/2012 Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

      by tom 47 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 12:24:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  trains are parked on steep grades all over (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Horace Boothroyd III

      North America. In some areas it's all you have but every car, and engine, has an individual hand brake and if they are engaged that train ain't moving unless the air is bled off and hand brakes released (on enuf cars).
      It just takes special care in some places.

      One place where we used to spot cars was on the crest of a hill and the first time I was spotting cars there my conductor explained how they did it for that spot to prevent vandals from pulling the pin on cars.
      First of all in order to pull the pin on a car you need a little slack between cars so we would have half the cars on each side of the hill, each pulling the opposite direction to the point where it was stretched to the maximum, then we'd tie down brakes on each end, dump the air (seizing all brakes) and then go back tightening all the hand brakes that had just gotten a little slack from the air dump.
      On other areas we tied down a LOT of brakes, dumped the air, and put the derailer (whenever available) down across the rail (which locks in place) in order to guide a rail car wheel onto the ground.

      without the ants the rainforest dies

      by aliasalias on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 01:33:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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