WASHINGTON — Some 70 rail workers, union activists and others attended a benefit for locomotive engineer Tom Harding and dispatcher Richard Labrie, two framed-up rail workers facing trial in September. They’re charged with responsibility for the deaths of 47 people when an unmanned train carrying highly flammable shale oil rolled into Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, derailed and exploded in 2013. Participants heard remarks on the stakes of their fight and enjoyed an evening of “Music for Safe Rails and Sustainable Communities,” featuring the U-Liners, at the Dew Drop Inn here July 9.
“The funds we raise are important, but second to the political defense we must wage. Harding and Labrie did not cause what happened. The charges against them should be dropped,” said Fritz Edler, who organized the benefit. He is a retired Washington, D.C., Amtrak locomotive engineer and member of Rail Workers United. “The Canadian government and railroad owners are fighting to have history regard them as well in control of rail safety, justly disciplining the bad apples that cause all accidents. We can’t accept that.”
Jean Demaitre, manager of train operations for the now-bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, faces similar charges.
“What’s at stake in their case is the fight over crew sizes,” Bill Broadus, 52, an Amtrak engineer with 34 years of service, told the Militant. The Canadian government had given the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic dispensation to operate with only one crew member, cutting costs. “If one man crew was a standard, it would be devastating to rail safety,” Broadus said.
The benefit was marked by three deaths in rail incidents nearly two weeks earlier. On June 27, CSX freight conductor Jake LaFave, 25, and Steven Deal, 20, a conductor trainee, were struck and killed by an Amtrak train while they stopped to inspect a malfunction in their train’s wheels.
The next day, Reyhan Safoglu, 13, was killed when she was hit by a Virginia Railway Express commuter train while walking across the Bull Run Creek trestle in Manassas, Virginia. The tracks there run through a populated area, near a popular swimming and fishing hole, but they aren’t fenced off and there are no walkways. Her cousin and brother managed to jump to safety.