Train crashes and train derailments happen worldwide every year; many remember the devastating 2013 Lac-Megantic derailment and fire in Canada that killed 42 people.
However, there is new technology being installed by train companies and railroads to reduce the chance of train accidents, which are highlighted below. Of course, accidents still happen, and it’s important to talk to an experienced train accident attorney if it’s happened to you.
Enhanced Train Braking
The United States now requires better braking on trains that carry flammable materials, such as oil and petroleum. Any train with a block of 20 train cars or more that has a combustible liquid must be fitted with a two-way end-of-train (EOT) electronic device or a distributed power braking system.
Both devices spread braking functionality across several points on the train for faster, more reliable stopping power.
Additionally, any train with 70 or more tanker cars with flammable contents at speeds above 40 MPH must have an electronically controlled pneumatic braking apparatus by May 2023.
These advanced technologies allow for better-controlled braking by allowing for more uniform and responsive braking pressure application. The bottom line is a shorter stopping distance, lower derailment risks, and lower chances of train car pileup if a derailment does happen.
Safer Tanker Cars
The tank cars involved in the Lac-Megantic tragedy were an older Class III variety, which was known to be likely to rupture even in a low-speed accident.
After that derailment, the US and Canada came up with a stricter tanker car standard called Class 117. The new car has better resistance to punctures, enhanced structural strength, and is resistant to fractures if a derailment happens.
However, it’s notable that Class III tankers are still allowed to be used in the US and Canada for some dangerous chemicals until June 2025.
Better Information Sharing
Technological advancements are allowing better information sharing between train operators and government agencies, which allows for more effective decision-making. For instance, Canada’s protective Direction No. 36 requires railroad companies to provide cities and counties with dangerous goods updates, including the number of trains, cars carrying hazardous materials, and more.
This information is designed to provide local governments with what they need to know for effective emergency responses and planning.
The US is mandating better classification of many petroleum-based products to ensure better record-keeping and packaging by requiring a documented testing and sampling procedure. This information is needed to be given to the US Department of Transportation when requested.
While technological improvements reduce the chances of train accidents, human error can still occur.
For example, in the Lac-Megantic tragedy, the train carried millions of liters of crude oil through the small town in Quebec at a dangerous 65 MPH before veering off the tracks, killing 47 people.
A few hours before the wreck, the train idled in Nantes, Quebec, and the engine caught fire and was disabled by the local fire department.
There was no power from the engine, so air leaked from the braking system. Not enough handbrakes were applied, and the train rolled downhill out of control toward the small town of Lac-Megantic.
Some of the reasons for that crash were less about technology and more about humans failing to use technology. Some human failures in that derailment were failure to maintain the train engine, not understanding the connection between the engine and air brakes, and not setting and testing handbrakes properly.
Better training of train operators has been the norm in Canada and the US since that fateful day in 2013, but there is still more work to prevent future train accidents.
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