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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 (Covid-19)

Covid-19 travel pass to pilot on Etihad and Emirates Airways flights

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Covid-19 travel pass to pilot on Etihad and Emirates Airways flights | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Travel Daily

A travel pass for passengers inoculated against Covid-19 or who have tested negative will be piloted on flights for Dubai’s Emirates and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways. With the travel pass issued by the International Air Transport Association, passengers can keep control of their data and share their test results with airlines and authorities for travel.

The travel pass will be offered on selected flights from Abu Dhabi in the first quarter, and will expand the pass to other destinations of the trail is successful. Emirates is going to implement phase 1 of the travel pass in April for flights departing from Dubai.

Recently, the IATA travel pass programme has been also tested in International Airlines Group and Singapore Airlines.

SOURCE: Reuters

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World

Australia might keep borders closed throughout 2021

Caitlin Ashworth

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Australia might keep borders closed throughout 2021 | The Thaiger
Stock photo by Josh Withers for UnSplash

It might be a while until tourists can visit Australia. Borders might not be fully reopen until at least 2022. Australia is rolling out its immunisation program next month, but even if most of the population is vaccinated against Covid-19, the Australian government says it will probably wait to make sure the vaccine prevents the transmission of the virus before fully reopening borders.

Australia’s borders are only open for citizens, residents, those with family in Australia and travellers who have been in New Zealand for the previous 14 days. All incoming travellers must quarantine for 14 days unless they come from an area classified as a “green safe travel zone.”

There are currently 1,881 active Covid-19 cases in Australia, according to Worldometers. No local Covid-19 cases were reported today. Since the start of the pandemic, Australia has reported more than 22,000 local cases and 909 deaths related to Covid-19.

The state of New South Wales is a main focus for Covid-19 prevention measures at this stage and some neighbouring states have imposed travel restrictions on those from the state. NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian floated the idea about allowing venues in the area to ban entry to those who aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19.

“Already airlines have indicated that if you’re not vaccinated you can’t travel overseas and I think that’ll be an incentive to a lot of people… We’ll also consider whether we allow venues … make up their own rules if they have a business or run a workplace about what they feel is Covid safe.”

SOURCE: Aljazeera

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Politics

Companies pull out from Trump brand after storming of Capitol incident

The Thaiger

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Companies pull out from Trump brand after storming of Capitol incident | The Thaiger

Corporate America is adding its weight in response to the insurgency at the Capitol building on January 6, and are pulling out from any association with the Trump brand after the storming of the capitol incidentwhich economists say will have a profound medium and long-term effect on his business interests. Recently, Signature Bank closed Trump’s personal accounts and the PGA of America stopped plans to hold its 2022 championship at Mr. Trump’s New Jersey golf course.

Such a parting of ways signals the business community’s weariness in being associated with a political figure that has attracted worldwide attention and is indicative of what may happen to the Trump brand. The president’s role in the incident, confirmed by his impeachment by the House this week, has gained criticism from the Business Roundtable to the AFL-CIO labour federation.

Michael D’Antonio, the author of a Trump biography, says the capitol incident has been a game-changer for the support of extreme politics.

“Trump’s name is really an albatross. He is the most disgraced president in history. This is a person who’s synonymous with a mob attacking the US Capitol. I just think this went a step too far.”

Other experts like Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, say Trump’s brand will inevitably suffer long-term.

“Before his term, Trump stood for wealth, success and over-the-top luxury. Now the brand has associations with anti-government views, racism and extremism. This makes the brand fairly toxic.”

Deutsche Bank, to which Trump reportedly owes around $400 million, is also planning to stop engaging in business with him. But the president dismissed any business challenges in an October 15 televised event by saying that the $400 million he owed was “a tiny percentage of my net worth.”

It appears true that some of Trump’s properties have benefitted from his presidency as taxpayer revenue has continuously flowed into his golf courses and clubs where he stays with his family, the secret service and the White House staff.

In fact, CREW estimates that Trump’s properties took in over $100 million from more than 500 visits by the president, according to a report in September 2020. But even that business transaction has received widespread criticism as many say Trump should not have mixed politics with his personal businesses.

D’Antonio predicts that Trump may sell current assets to pay off his Deutsche Bank debt, which means there could be fewer to none Trump hotels, golf courses or towers in the next 10 years.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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