03/11/2014 10:40 EDT | Updated 05/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Lac-Mégantic mayor seeks rail safety upgrades in Washington

A coalition of cross-border officials from Quebec, New Brunswick and the United States that includes the mayor of Lac-Mégantic is in Washington, D.C., today to press the case for stricter rail safety regulations in North America.

"The Lac-Mégantic tragedy is a painful reminder that inadequate safety regulations can lead to disaster with death tolls and financial losses far exceeding the current resources allocated to enforcing the rules and the preventive measures in place," Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said in a statement issued by the Union of Quebec Municipalities. will carry their press conference live at 11 a.m. ET.

"The coalition plans on being heard to ensure the joint recommendations of the Bureau de la securité du transport and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada are implemented as quickly as possible," she said.

Lac-Mégantic, a small town in eastern Quebec, lost 47 people last July when a runaway train derailed and tank cars carrying crude oil exploded into a giant fireball. The disaster prompted calls for changes to rail safety regulations in Canada and is also used as example in the United States by those pushing for tighter rules.

The other Canadian mayors on the trip to Washington are: Vicki May Hamm of Magog, Quebec, Roger Doiron of Richibuto, Luc Desjardins of Petit-Rocher and Jean-Guy Marquis, from Edmundston, all in New Brunswick.

Karen Darch, the mayor of Barrington, Ill., and Peter Neilsen of the Maine Municipal Association are also part of the Cross-Border Municipal Coalition for Railway Safety.

Both sides now

The group was scheduled to meet Monday with the U.S. deputy secretary of transportation and the administrator of the Federal Railway Administration as well as a transport official at the Canadian embassy. Tuesday's itinerary includes a meeting with Canada's ambassador in Washington Gary Doer and then a meeting with members of Congress.

With the huge increase in transporting crude oil by rail in Canada and the U.S. over the last few years the coalition says it's important for officials on both sides of the border to work together.

"If we want to make safety the top priority for the North American rail industry, not only now, but in the long-term, then all municipal elected officials need to band together," Hamm said in the statement.

The coalition says it hopes that by Roy-Laroche sharing her experience in Lac-Mégantic, and the other municipal officials sharing their concerns, U.S. lawmakers will be encouraged to address their safety priorities. Those include, for example, improving emergency response capacity and improving infrastructure.

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