Items such as Maxi brakes won't work in railroad applications. All the cars in a train must act together all during its operation. Remember train brakes are applied when air pressure is DROPPED. To release the brakes air pressure must be INCREASED. If anything happens to the train and the brake pipe is broken or a hole develops etc. The brakes automatically apply. It's very effective and almost fool proof. If an engineer over applies and depletes his main reservoir, he still has the option to place the brake system in emergency because there is still air in the auxiliary reservoirs under each car. You can't use that air for a normal application until the main reservoir and the brake pipe have been returned to their operating pressure. In this case you can have a potential runaway because by the time you recharge the brake system the train may have accelerated beyond the brakes ability to stop it and with a heavy freight train it may not be able to stop it before it's too late even with an emergency application.
This is what happened to me just the night before last. I was running No 41 to Port Jervis NY and while I was running at 80 MPH, a large buck decided to kill himself by jumping right in front of me. I heard him hit and roll under the train. The next minute the train went into emergency. The deer had broken the brake pipe hose connection between the first and second car. You see the brakes did what they were supposed to do. When the hose broke the instant lowering of pressure in the brake pipe caused all of the brakes to go into emergency. Of course I was very annoyed at having to climb under the train and repair the hose connection at 3:30 AM. But after the repair and I recharged the brakes, we went on our way, safe and sound.
I read what is currently available about the derailment in Canada. There is something fishy about this. It just doesn't sound right.
It could be that the reporting is in error. Most times reports about railroad incidents aren't very technically accurate. Many times an engineer is called a conductor. That's a terrible insult to an engineer.
If the train was secured for the night the brakes would have been applied at a full reduction and there would be no way for them to release by themselves. Even if the engine was shut off it would take days for the normal air leakage out of the auxiliary reservoirs to seep in and cause the entire train to release and then it would be individual cars, not the entire train. Someone had to release the brakes.
When a train is left unattended, THERE ARE A PLETHORA OF RULES THAT MUST BE ADHERED TO. A violation of any single one of those rules would mean the engineer would instantly lose his certification and his job and even go to jail if something happened due to his willful negligence.
All levers and handles that pertain to moving the train MUST be removed and locked up. This means the brake handles must be removed to prevent unauthorized tampering.
There must be; and I quote the rule book, "sufficient number of hand brakes set to prevent undesired movement of the train." So the brakemen should have set the required amount of hand brakes to prevent ANY movement of the train. Not to do so would mean INSTANT TERMINATION, INVESTIGATIONS AND PUNISHMENTS INCLUDING FINANCIAL PENALTIES. So if they didn't set the hand brakes that would be negligence of the highest order.
Railroading is one of the most serious jobs one can have. I can't believe this crew was this incompetent or negligent in the course of their duties.