UPDATE 1-Canada investigators want rule changes after deadly rail crash
(Updates throughout, adds quotes from investigators)
July 19 (Reuters) - Canadian investigators issued their first recommendations on Friday after a devastating train wreck in Quebec, urging that trains with dangerous goods not be left unattended, and pushing for stricter guidelines on railway braking systems.
Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigators probing the July 6 disaster in the lakeside town of Lac-Megantic said that the "braking force" that had been applied to the train, which was hauling 72 tanker cars of crude oil, was insufficient to hold it in place.
The train had been parked for the night on a main line 6 miles uphill from Lac-Megantic, but started rolling down the track unmanned, and derailed and exploded in the center of town. About 50 people died in North America's worst train accident in more than 20 years, and the center of the once-picturesque town was destroyed.
TSB investigator Ed Belkaloul declined to say how many crucial hand brakes had been set when the train was parked. But he noted there was "enormous variability" in the strength of the brakes, which are located on individual rail cars and operated manually.
"If you look on your car, if your brake shoes are finished, even if you set them, it won't give you anything," he said. "Same here. The number of brakes is important, but the quality of the braking is also important."
General braking instructions for railways, dating from 1997, simply say that operators must use "sufficient brakes".
"What's missing now ... are specific instructions for a particular place," Belkaloul said. Variables include the number of cars, the grade on which the train is parked, and other factors such as local conditions and wind.
The TSB now wants Transport Canada, the government department that regulates railways, to clarify the rules on brakes and to ensure that "trains carrying dangerous goods are not left unattended on a main track".
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has asked the department to review the TSB recommendations "on an expedited basis", a spokeswoman said.
The investigators said they are also analyzing the contents of the tanker cars that did not explode in the crash, looking for clues on why the crude oil in the other cars exploded so violently.
The train, which was operated by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, was carrying oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to a refinery on Canada's East Coast, part of a huge growth in shipments of crude by rail as North American oil production rises and pipelines fill to capacity.
Nearly two weeks after the disaster, investigators continue to sift through what police describe as a crime scene, searching for more bodies, and for clues on the cause of the accident.
(Additional reporting by Peter N. Henderson and Louise Egan; Editing by Vicki Allen, Janet Guttsman and Peter Galloway)