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Phuket Gazette World News: Quebec grieves in wake of train crash; Asiana victims told not to evacuate; No Facebook, no CIA – says Venez minister; UN hits Vatican over child abuse; Mandela responding

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Phuket Gazette World News: Quebec grieves in wake of train crash; Asiana victims told not to evacuate; No Facebook, no CIA – says Venez minister; UN hits Vatican over child abuse; Mandela responding | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Quebec train set too few brakes, with deadly result
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The handbrake is the railroad industry’s ultimate fail-safe mechanism. It is supposed to help avert disasters like the one that engulfed a Canadian town on Saturday, when a runaway train loaded with oil hurtled downhill, derailed and exploded, leaving 50 people dead or missing.

The railroad initially blamed the catastrophe on the failure of the train’s pneumatic airbrakes after an engine fire, but the company acknowledged on Wednesday that the train’s engineer did not apply an adequate number of handbrakes to hold the train in place, and failed to comply with regulations.

A Reuters review of Canadian and U.S. regulations found that rail operators are given considerable leeway to decide how many handbrakes are sufficient for any given train, depending on track conditions and the weight of the cargo.

Operators are only required to apply enough of the handbrakes – one is found on every railcar – to ensure the train will not move even if other safety features, such as air brakes, falter.

The issue of handbrakes is likely to prove central to how blame is apportioned for the deadliest North American railroad disaster in at least two decades, experts said. The Canadian authorities have launched a criminal investigation, and Quebec police inspector Michel Forget has said criminal negligence is one lead they are looking into.

The question of whether enough of the train’s handbrakes were used may affect the liability of the rail company – Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) – and could spur an overhaul in regulation. One key question is if fault can be linked to MMA’s own handbrake practice, or to the lone engineer who operated the train, or to a regulatory code that gives rail operators too much slack, experts said.

MMA Chairman Ed Burkhardt told Reuters the engineer failed to comply with Canadian regulations. “If it had been complied with, we wouldn’t have had a runaway train,” he said.

Burkhardt said he could not be certain how many handbrakes were set but the engineer told him that 11 had been applied before he left the train on Friday night for a sleep break.

At least three independent railroad industry experts contacted by Reuters said they would have opted to apply at least 20 brakes and as many as 30 on a similar heavy train parked at a grade of 1.2 percent, which is the slope of the track where the runaway train had been parked.

By 1 a.m. on Saturday, the unmanned train was speeding toward Lac-Megantic, Quebec, around 7 miles (11 km) downhill from its parking spot in the municipality of Nantes.

The company and investigators have not released the engineer’s identity. A source familiar with the situation and Canadian media said his name is Tom Harding.

Reuters has not been able to reach Harding for comment. A phone number listed for him in Farnham, Quebec, was disconnected and a Reuters reporter who visited his address found no one home.

Burkhardt told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that the engineer was “under police control” but “not in jail.” Later in the day, police said the engineer is not under arrest and declined to further explain his status or name him.

Testing the brakes

The handbrake mechanism on a railcar usually consists of a large wheel in the cabin, connected to chains and levers that set brake pads underneath the train.

Canadian regulations require an engineer to test the train’s handbrakes after setting them. The engineer is required to attempt to pull the train back and forth, typically using the engine, to ensure the brakes can hold it in place.

Burkhardt, a decades-long rail industry veteran, said he did not know if the engineer performed the test.

Asked whether a potential failure to set or test enough handbrakes could increase MMA’s liability for the wreck, Burkhardt said, “We’re acknowledging liability. We’re not standing around saying we don’t have responsibility.”

He said the company had insurance but declined to give details.

To be sure, unforeseen circumstances left MMA’s train at the mercy of its handbrakes. The train’s pneumatic brakes, which run on compressed air and are the first line of defence, had been shut down by firefighters when they switched off an engine that had caught fire after the engineer left.

It is not yet clear what caused the fire, but the shutting down of the engine prompted the pneumatic braking system to gradually leak air and lose its track-gripping power.

Establishing handbrake safety guidelines may become more important as a growing number of trains crisscross North America to bring oil from shale-drilling regions to big refineries.

The MMA train was carrying a cargo of light, sweet oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region, which ships out three-quarters of its crude by rail, to an Irving Oil refinery in New Brunswick.

“I definitely think there should be a protocol … that addresses where and how you’re going to park a train that’s loaded with hazardous material,” said John Bentley, an accident reconstruction expert in Perryville, Arkansas.

At present, Canadian and U.S. regulations do not specify the number of handbrakes since factors like track grade, cargo weight and contents, weather and space between railcars can all have a bearing on how many brakes are needed to ensure safety.

Depending on where a train is parked, more or fewer handbrakes may be required, Canadian Transportation Safety Board investigator Ed Belkaloul said, adding that railroad companies are given some discretion to develop their own safety standard.

How many hand brakes are enough?

MMA has said its handbrake policy was adopted from safety guidelines set by a much larger railroad, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. Canadian Pacific declined comment.

Earlier this week, Burkhardt told Reuters he believed the MMA engineer had complied with company rules and standard rail industry practices in securing the train. On Wednesday, he told reporters the worker likely failed to set enough handbrakes, violated company policy, and was now suspended without pay. He did not detail what caused his revised views.

An online copy of Canadian Pacific’s General Operating Instructions said at least nine handbrakes must be set on a parked train of 70 to 79 cars, but additional brakes “may be required” if the train is parked on a grade.

Rival railroad Canadian National provides more specific instructions, recommending that crews activate the handbrakes on 40 percent of all railcars when a train is idled on a 1-1.4 percent grade, according to a Transportation Safety Board report in April.

If MMA’s engineer had followed the 40 percent guidance, he would have had to activate about 29 brakes.

The Transportation Safety Board report followed a January 2012 incident in which a section of 13 loaded coal cars crashed into a stationary train near Hanlon, Alberta, at 56 miles per hour (90 km per hour), seriously injuring one crew member. Canadian National was faulted for providing inadequate guidance to its crews for how to test the braking systems, particularly on slopes.

“There’s always some amount of judgment. It’s a balancing act between what will hold the train and what is operationally feasible,” said Rob Mangels, senior mechanical associate at R.L. Banks & Associates and a locomotive engineer and trainer.

Mangels said handbraking 20 to 30 cars on a 72-car oil train wou

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus spreads north and south in China – 139 new cases reported

The Thaiger

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Coronavirus spreads north and south in China – 139 new cases reported | The Thaiger
PHOTO: New cases reported over the weekend are concerning health offficials - BBC.com

Another 139 new cases of a flu-like disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus in China has shocked health officials. There’s also been a third confirmed death reported today. Worse, the outbreak has now spread beyond Wuhan in central China where the virus was first identified. There have been cases reported in Beijing, a province next door to Shanghai and Shenzhen in southern China.

Health authorities in Beijing have now confirmed two cases of the new coronavirus today, while Guangdong authorities in southern China reported one new case in Shenzhen as well. The Shenzhen case is the first confirmation that the virus has spread domestically beyond Wuhan.

The Wuhan Health Commission announced today that 136 new patients had been diagnosed over the weekend – 1 person died from the virus, 2 remain in critical condition, 33 are in serious condition. All three patients that have died are believed to have visited Wuhan in the last month or so.

The new cases have brought the total number of people diagnosed with the virus in China to 201. That’s a big jump over numbers reported over the weekend.

Meanwhile, health authorities in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, say they are monitoring eight patient. All eight have been quarantined for treatment. In coastal Zhejiang province, bordering Shanghai, authorities have now reported five new suspected cases who have been confirmed to have visited Wuhan. Last week, three cases were detected outside China — two in Thailand and one in Japan. All cases have been linked to Wuhan. On Monday, South Korea also confirmed its first case of the virus.

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at the centre of the pneumonia outbreak in he city of tWuhan has been closed for disinfection since January 1.

Meanwhile, Thai officials are stepping up screening efforts with many flights flying in from Wuhan over the next few weeks for the Chinese New Year holidays. Health officials say they’re confident that their screening efforts will detect any infected passengers getting off flights at Thai airports.

SOURCE: CNN

Coronavirus spreads north and south in China - 139 new cases reported | News by The Thaiger

GRAPHIC: Bangkok Post

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More coronavirus cases detected in China, global alert for Chinese New Year

The Thaiger

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More coronavirus cases detected in China, global alert for Chinese New Year | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The Conversation

Chinese medical officials have now reported four more cases of the viral pneumonia strain caused by a new coronavirus. The discoveries are causing rising concern that the disease is not fully understand and could spread during the upcoming Chinese New Year holidays.

The new virus, originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan – the apparent epicentre of the outbreak – is believed to belong in the same class of coronaviruses that includes the deadly SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 800 people around the world in 2002/03. That outbreak also started in China.

At this stage all signs are that the virus isn’t as lethal as SARS, but there is still little known about the coronavirus’ origins and how it is transmitted. But it has been established at this stage that it is not spread human to human.

Both Thailand and Japan have confirmed new cases of the virus. In Thailand the patient was detected when arriving on a flight from Wuhan. And Japan’s health ministry reported that a man who had visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan was hospitalised on January 10, four days after his return to Japan.

Both patients have fully recovered.

The new cases detected in China, and the cases detected overseas, are stoking global concerns as many of the 1.4 billion Chinese will head overseas during the Chinese New Year holidays that begin next week and run through to early February.

The Wuhan Health Commission reports that the the four new cases are now in stable condition. 45 cases have been reported in the city as of last Thursday. A second patient died on Wednesday this week. Nearly 50 people are now known to have been infected globally, but all of them either lived in Wuhan or have travelled to the city.

The London Imperial College’s MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis speculates that there are probably “substantially more cases” of the new coronavirus than currently declared by Wuhan authorities. Their modelling estimates that there would be 1,723 cases showing onset of related symptoms by the second week in January.

Meanwhile US authorities say they are now screening at three airports to detect passengers arriving via direct or connecting flights from Wuhan. And in Asia, authorities in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are stepping up monitoring of travellers from Wuhan at airports.

SOURCE: Reuters | Science Alert

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Dutchman jailed for 100 years in Thailand for money laundering is released

Greeley Pulitzer

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Dutchman jailed for 100 years in Thailand for money laundering is released | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Johan van Laarhoven walks free after serving six years of a 100 year sentence in Thai prison - The Chiang Rai Times

A Dutch citizen who was jailed for 100 years in Thailand, is now on his way home after years of campaigning for his release. His sentence was reduced to 75 years on appeal and later to 50 years by the Supreme court. Johan van Laarhoven, who ran several cannabis “coffee shops” in Holland, was jailed in Thailand for money laundering, along with his Thai wife, though the offences took place in The Netherlands.

Thai authorities began investigating Van Laarhoven in 2014 after a letter from a Dutch public prosecutor’s office, informing them that he had earned his money selling marijuana and requesting their help. Last year, MPs called on the government to to extradite Van Laarhoven and his wife back to Netherlands. The Dutch justice minister even met with PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin to discuss the case.

Even though cannabis is legal in the Netherlands, Dutch officials bungled a tax query to Thai authorities regarding the sale of the Dutchman’s cannabis cafe chain. This led to a criminal investigation and his televised arrest in Thailand.

Thai authorities seized the Dutchman’s assets and he was sentenced to 100 years in prison. His young Thai wife, Mingkwan, was jailed for 13 years as an accomplice. The Netherlands has an extradition treaty with Thailand, but it can only be implemented after a case has been ruled “definitive.” Van Laarhoven’s sentence was upheld late last year, clearing the way for a diplomatic solution. It’s unclear whether his wife will be allowed to join him in the Netherlands.

Once back, Van Laarhoven will spend two years in a Dutch jail to complete his sentence, and also face criminal investigation for money laundering. The investigation will focus on tax fraud, membership in a criminal organisation and laundering €20m (675 million baht) according to a Dutch public prosecutor.

SOURCE: The Chiang Rai Times | Dutchnews.nl

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