The following article was submitted by Robert Bellefleur, spokesperson for the Citizens and Groups Coalition for Rail Safety in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec — formed in the wake of the July 6, 2013, oil train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people and destroyed the town center — to fight to force Ottawa to build a railway bypass around the town of 6,000. Locomotive engineer Tom Harding and train dispatcher Richard Labrie, both members of United Steelworkers Local 1976, face frame-up charges of 47 counts of criminal negligence.
It has been shown — by rail unionists and groups fighting for rail safety and by a series of investigative reports in the Toronto Globe and Mail — that responsibility for the catastrophe rests squarely on the bosses of the now-bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, with the complicity of the Canadian government. If convicted, the two rail workers, along with Jean Demaitre, a minor railway company official similarly charged, face up to life in prison.
The coalition conveyed to journalists its deep concern about the dangerous curve of the new tracks through the town center that were rebuilt in the fall of 2013 following the tragedy. The tracks were built at a sharper 8-degree angle, creating a greater risk of derailment than the original 4-degree curve in place at the time of the disaster.
The fears of the coalition have been heightened. Since January 2014, the Central, Maine and Quebec railway — which replaced the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic — has been running around 10 trains a week through this curve, regularly transporting dangerous cargo in tanker cars filled with propane, sulfuric acid, sodium chlorate, as well as automobile fuel containing ethanol.
This is another clear proof of the chronic laxness of Central Maine and Quebec Railway’s management and the federal government’s Transport Canada, while Tom Harding, Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre are still vociferously being prosecuted as solely responsible for the July 6, 2013, tragedy.
Their trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 11. For a majority of the people of Lac-Mégantic the accused in this case are not the ones who should be in the dock.
‘Harding viewed as hero’
On the contrary, many Lac-Mégantic citizens view Tom Harding, the train’s engineer, as a hero.
When the parked train rolled, derailed and the first explosions erupted that night, Harding quickly ran to the site of the disaster. He asked firemen for protective clothing in order to risk his life to detach and separate the last 10 unexploded oil tanker cars from the inferno that threatened to destroy the northwestern part of the town.
Harding showed exceptional courage that night. He does not deserve to be treated as a common criminal, nor does Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre. They all carried out their responsibilities as best they could under unacceptable work conditions imposed by an irresponsible company guilty of many breaches of the most elementary rules of railway safety.
For the citizens coalition, the public inquiry into the Lac-Mégantic catastrophe, which political authorities have so far refused to hold, has only been postponed. We hope the criminal trial before a jury in Sherbrooke that begins in September will exonerate the workers and shine a spotlight on the responsibility of senior Montreal, Maine and Atlantic managers, politicians and high officials from Canada’s previous government for this tragedy.
DC fundraiser backs framed-up Quebec rail workers (photo box)
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home