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New rail rules follow Quebec derailment

WASHINGTON – The Federal Railroad Administration ordered the nation’s rail carriers Friday to take steps to better secure trains loaded with hazardous cargo, nearly a month after the deadly derailment and explosion of an oil train in Quebec that killed 47 people.

Under the mandatory directive, railroads cannot leave trains carrying such materials unattended on main tracks or sidings until federal regulators sign off on required safety improvements.

Canadian authorities issued a similar directive last month in the aftermath of the July 6 accident, which wiped out the downtown area of Lac-Megantic.

“Safety is our top priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “While we wait for the full investigation to conclude, the department is taking steps today to help prevent a similar incident from occurring in the United States.”

The FRA, which oversees the nation’s railroads, also said it would convene an emergency meeting of its Railroad Safety Advisory committee to see what additional steps need to be taken, including preventing unauthorized access to locomotives and unintended movement of trains.

The directive comes as the shipment of hazardous materials, especially crude oil and ethanol, has increased 400 percent in recent years. Rail has become the preferred way to move much of the crude that has been produced by the use of fracking technology.

The crude oil being hauled by the train that derailed in Lac-Megantic originated in North Dakota and was being transported through eastern Quebec by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railroad.