Lac Megantic, biases, incomplete consequences, and regulations

Lac Megantic, biases, incomplete consequences, and regulations

Oct 24th, 2013

Lac Megantic, biases, incomplete consequences, and regulations

Lac Megantic, Canada, railroad derailment tragedy reportedly brought direct destruction and casualties on a radius of 200-400m when a number of hydrocarbon tank cars exploded. Once again media and public opinion realized later on that the immense suffering endured by the community extends it’s shadow far away from the point and time of the tragedy with far reaching indirect consequences (exclusions zone, logistic, loss of market share, bankruptcies, increase of jobless, depression, environmental, etc.).

These ripple effects are usually neglected or censored (cut-off) by “common practice” risk assessments, because only “credible” accidents are considered. As a matter of fact, while reviewing a report by a very reputable swiss risk consultant studying the potential for a catastrophic accident in his country we noticed they quoted two case-histories (one in Switzerland, the other in Italy) to draw conclusions on the maximum consequences of the catastrophic accident under consideration, concluding, for example, that a reinforced concrete continuous wall, parallel to the rails would offer good protection to people and cultural objects just next to it. NO ripple effects, no thoughts that, may be, two cases are too little to draw such an important and censoring conclusion.

Narrow sight view? Biasing? Certainly common practice!

The public was certainly also surprised to read from the media that 240,000 of the 310,000 (77%) tank cars in North America are of the same type involved in Lac Megantic accident. The US National Transportation Safety Board showed in 2009 concerns over these cars, tracing back related problems to a derailment in Wisconsin in 1992 (The Globe and Mail, July 15th). We haven’t heard any decision related to “grounding” those tank cars, especially since they are used all over the continent, everyday, and the capital expenditure would be unsustainable.

Of course a “grounding” would be completely unsustainable, but one can wonder if a change in SoP would not, at least for the time being, alleviate these “damocles sword” hanging over North America.
As we have written numerous times, severe accidents generally provoke regulatory changes, and this happened this time too. In the aftermath of Lac Megantic tragedy, Canadian Pacific (CP) reacted first (The Globe and Mail, July 18th), tightening the rules related to leaving unattended trains, hand brakes, etc. On July 20th (The Globe and Mail) it became official that the Canadian Transportation Safety Board had asked Transport Canada to rewrite “current regulations (which are) too vague and open to interpretation by railway workers”. In Riskope’s opinion these new rules should be “risk based Standard operating procedures” and should avoid unsustainable knee-jerk reactions.

Since that time seven other derailments/RR accidents have occurred across Canada.

It remains to be understood if this cluster of events is stochastic in nature, or if we are seeing the effect of a relaxed attitude on maintenance and safety, biased and censored risk assessments.

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Category: Consequences, Crisis management, Mitigations, Risk analysis, Risk management, Tolerance/Acceptability, Uncategorized

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