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Canadian report faults train regulators

Company accused of lax safety process

WASHINGTON — The runaway train that exploded into a small Quebec village last year was operated by a small regional railroad that cut corners on safety to save money, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in its final report on the accident that killed 47 people.

‘‘This was a company with a weak safety process,’’ said Wendy Tadros, board chairwoman. ‘‘A company that did what it took to get the job done.’’

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But the report released Tuesday with a press conference in Lac-Mégantic, where the accident occurred, also found fault with Canadian regulators for their failure to oversee trains hauling millions of gallons of potentially explosive Bakken crude oil.

‘‘Transport Canada knew about some of the problems, but the follow-up wasn’t always there,’’ Tadros said. ‘‘There has to be a change in the Canadian rail systems because we have to do more than just stick to the rules.’’

The unmanned train with 72 tank cars full of crude oil roared into Lac-Mégantic after a 7-mile downhill run on July 6, 2013, derailing at 1:15 a.m. and releasing 1.5 million gallons of oil that burst into an inferno, the report said.

Though Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway’s president, Edward Burkhardt, was quick to pin the blame last year on an engineer who he said failed to properly set the train’s brakes, the report presented a more complex explanation for the disaster.

‘‘In all, we found 18 factors that played a role,’’ Tadros said. ‘‘Take away any one of them and this accident may not have happened.’’

Among them, she said, was that the railway ‘‘cut corners’’ in many areas; for example, opting to lower train speeds rather than make necessary repairs to the rails.

‘‘We now know why the situation developed over time,’’ Tadros said. ‘‘It was a weak safety culture at MM&A, poor training of employees, and tanker cars that didn’t offer enough protection.’’

The railway filed for bankruptcy within weeks of the Lac-Mégantic crash, and three of its employees are facing criminal negligence charges. The railway, which served Quebec, Maine, and Vermont, had been in financial trouble since its formation in 2002 to serve the forest industry in the region. When key paper-plant customers shut down, it turned to the awakening demand to transport Bakken crude oil being produced through the fracking process.

The sudden desire to move vast volumes of crude oil by rail took Canadian regulators by surprise, Tadros said.

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