This story was updated at 3:35 pm EDT July 10.
The chairman of the embattled Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway expects tougher safety regulations in the wake of the deadly Lac-Mégantic crash, and he told CBC/Radio-Canada the MMA is already planning to change its operations.
“When our train service restarts, they are not going to change crews in Mégantic, they’re going to go right through there,” Edward A. Burkhardt said in an interview with CBC News.
“I think in the future, trains like this should be guarded,” he said, meaning trains should not be left unattended during crew changes. “I expect we’ll see some tightening of the safety regulations,” said Burkhardt, who is also president and CEO of parent company Rail World.
But Burkhardt defended the railroad’s safety record, claiming the MMA followed standard rail industry practice by leaving trains unguarded when changing crews. “We don’t have any tradition of doing it” another way, he told CBC News.
If allowing the engineer to leave the parked train was an error, “there was a mistake made in the whole rail industry, coast-to-coast and across two nations,” Burkhardt said in the CBC interview. “I think we were following industry practice.”
Shippers he said, would be loathe to pay higher freight rates to cover the costs of additional security or crew. "It's not a matter of compassion, it's a matter of reality."
Visiting Lac-Mégantic Wednesday, Burkhardt for the first time said the train's engineer may not have set enough handbrakes to prevent the train from rolling. He told media the engineer has been suspended without pay.
The July 6 rail crash, which pulverized downtown Lac-Mégantic, claimed the lives of at least 15 people and perhaps dozens more. By July 10, as many as 60 persons were still missing. More than 30 buildings were destroyed.
The MMA transports crude oil, along with paper and forest products, operating about 15 trains a day, according to the company’s Web site. The railroad’s mainline runs from Montreal to Searsport, Maine. Lac-Mégantic is close to the U.S. border.
Federal and provincial investigators are still trying to determine how the unattended train, which had been parked in nearby Nantes, Quebec, became a runaway train, and why the crude oil tank cars exploded following the crash.
Burkhardt claimed firefighters may have unknowingly disengaged the train’s air brakes when battling a blaze that broke out on the locomotive after the engineer departed. But it’s not clear whether that alone would have released the train.
The Lac-Mégantic crash put an intense spotlight on the rapid growth of crude oil shipping by rail, especially shale oil from hydraulic fracturing operations. The accident may affect the debate in Washington over the Keystone XL pipeline.