Now We Know Why The Rail Cars Rolled 7 Miles Down The Hill…

…to end up incinerating that town and an as yet unknown number of people

(Reuters) – Airbrakes that would have prevented the Quebec train disaster failed because they were powered by an engine that was shut down by firefighters as they dealt with a fire shortly before the calamity occurred, the head of the railway that operated the train said on Monday.

The runaway oil tanker train derailed in Lac-Megantic shortly after one o’clock in the morning on Saturday, exploding in a deadly ball of flames and killing at least five people, with another 40 still missing and feared dead.

The train had been parked at a siding on a slope near the town of Nantes, which is 12 km (8 miles) west of Lac-Megantic. The volunteer Nantes fire service was called out late on Friday night to deal with an engine fire on one of the train’s locomotives.

Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert told Reuters the crew had switched off the engine as they extinguished a “good-sized” blaze in the engine, probably caused by a fuel or oil line break in the engine.

The problem was that the engine had been left on by the train’s engineer to maintain pressure in the air brakes, Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), said in an interview. As the pressure gradually “leaked off”, the air brakes failed and the train began to slide downhill, he said.

That’s one hell of a big goddamned “oops.”

8 Responses to “Now We Know Why The Rail Cars Rolled 7 Miles Down The Hill…”

  1. JeffS says:

    Asked whether there had been any discussion about the brakes, he replied: “There was no discussion of the brakes at that time. We were there for the train fire. As for the inspection of the train after the fact, that was up to them.”

    And thus the blame game begins…

  2. Julie says:

    What a clusterfiretruck.

  3. major dad says:

    Hey, not my job…

  4. Skyler says:

    Who the hell would . . .

    No. What kind of stupid moron designs brakes that aren’t fail safe? This is the most basic design criteria you can imagine.

    Everything I have ever designed has been done keeping in mind what happens if you lose power? What happens of the controls go haywire? You always want to fail in a safe mode.

    Truck air brakes use pressure to stay unbraked. Why are trains designed to require pressure to stay braked? Who was the committee of morons who approved this design?

  5. Mr. Bingley says:

    Skyler, back when I drove buses the air system I seem to recall only was a fail-safe with regard to the parking brake: you needed sufficient air pressure to release it and get going. But once you were going if you lost air pressure you lost your brakes.

  6. Skyler says:

    That makes sense, Mr. Bingley, because if they failed while you were zorching down the highway then sudden braking could cause an accident. But for parking brakes that is different.

    I remember the Harrier jets that were parked on the neighboring flightline twice that the idiot pilots forgot to chock the aircraft. When the hyd pressure bled off, the planes rolled through my flightline and into the dirt. One time the plane was damaged and needed to have a new wing put on. I called up their MMCO and gave him a piece of my mind about how his squadron’s pilots were complete idiots, and I issued standing orders that if any Harrier was near our planes ever again, we would ensure they were chocked.

    But that aircraft design was because you can’t have your wheels locked up on landing because you lose hyd pressure. But I don’t see this as an appropriate excuse for trains.

  7. major dad says:

    Well, since these train people have been doing this for quite some time I would bet there is a backup system.

  8. Mr. Bingley says:

    You would think, md, and I hope it’s more than the handbrakes they said would ‘not be enough’ to hold the train in position.

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