There is an important public policy backdrop to the disaster that befell the good people in Lac Mégantic, Quebec in July, when a freight train — with five locomotives and 72 tanker cars — jumped the tracks. The crude oil leaked and then exploded, killing at least 47 people, destroying much of the town, and contaminating the soil and a nearby lake.
The core responsibility of government is to protect its citizens from harm when at all possible. The question here is whether Ottawa has met its responsibility to safely regulate railway transportation. I was surprised to learn, for example, that there was but one engineer for the train. That driver had reached the limit of how many hours he could drive on that day and he left the train, unattended, on the tracks uphill from Lac Megantic while he went to a hotel to rest. In his absence, there was no one else attending the train.
Transport Canada allowed Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Inc. to operate in this way. The company, preposterously, has defended the one-engineer practice, saying that it is safer to have only one driver because that creates fewer distractions. I must say that I have always felt safer in a jetliner with a co-pilot aboard than I would if there were but one pilot.Read More