A state inspection of rail systems in Maine, including a section in Searsport, determined the safety practices in place are adequate to prevent a tragedy, such as occurred in Lac Megantic, Quebec in July.

The inspection of state rail systems was initiated as part of an executive order issued by Gov. Paul LePage after a freight train operated by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway carrying 72 cars of crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac Megantic, killing 47 and destroying numerous buildings.

As part of LePage's executive order, the Maine Department of Transportation was charged with inspecting the rail systems and compiling a report to provide to the state regarding the findings of the inspections.

According to the report, inspectors looked at track, grade crossings, mechanical and rail equipment, operating practices and procedures, and movement of hazardous materials.

Prior to the incident in Lac Megantic, there were 1,201 inspections completed on railroads across the state, and defects were identified that required attention by the railroad operators. However, none of the defects warranted shutting down any of the rail lines, the report states.

A second round of inspections began following the Lac Megantic tragedy with the inspections specifically focusing on Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. The inspection of the rail lines, which included a section from Brownville to Searsport, identified defects, which were documented and forwarded to the rail operator and the Federal Railroad Administration for correction and follow-up.

None of the defects, which are not identified in the report, required shutting down any of the rail lines in the state.

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway is going through bankruptcy proceedings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Maine.

Concerns over Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway operating trains in Searsport were raised during a recent selectmen meeting when resident David Italiaander urged the board to submit a letter to the bankruptcy trustee asking that liability insurance be purchased, trains operating in the town have two-man crews and the railraod business be sold, according to previously published reports.

The selectmen did not take any action on the issue after Chairman Aaron Fethke stated that because the town is not an investor or creditor involved with the railroad company, a letter wouldn't carry much weight.

As part of the report compiled by MDOT, the state asked rail operators to share their best practices for securing parked freight trains. After reviewing the responses from operators, MDOT determined most of the operators had updated or added additional requirements regarding parked trains in the wake of the Lac Megantic tragedy.

In addition, a review of the responses determined most of the operators shared similar practices, such as providing additional and updated training to engineers and conductors around securing trains; staffing two-man crews aboard freight trains; requiring crews to notify dispatchers when a train is parked and left, with the notification including that the train is locked, how many handbrakes were set, the number of handbrakes that were tested and if any wheel chocks or derails were applied.

The report stated that most railroad operators also asked that trains be parked on a mainline only if there is no other option and that the crew notify the dispatcher that the train is parked on a mainline and how it is secured. Railroad operators indicated they require that all parked trains have their locomotive cabs locked and that any cars left in a siding without a locomotive attached will have handbrakes set and derails at both end of the cars, or that switches will be set so the cars cannot leave the siding.

Based upon the findings of the inspections, MDOT determined that as long as railroad companies follow safety procedures there was no indication that a disaster such as occurred in Lac Megantic could happen in the state.

The report also stated that “although no form of transport is free from all risk, existing rail safety practices appear adequate.”

Gov. LePage said in a prepared statement that the results of the report are encouraging but there needs to be a continued focus on safety.

“When that horrible event in Lac Megantic happened, we increased the focus on the safety of the rail system in Maine,” LePage said in a statement. “But I continue to be optimistic about the steady growth of this industry, which provides good jobs and contributes to the state’s economy.”

To view the full report go to maine.gov/mdot/railsafetyreport.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.