After 10 years, ‘Lac-Mégantic could happen anywhere’

By John Steele
July 24, 2023

MONTREAL — “Another Lac-Mégantic can happen at any moment anywhere in the country,” Christopher Monette, Teamsters Canada director of public affairs, told the Montreal daily Le Devoir for its July 6 edition.

July 6 was the 10th anniversary of the 2013 derailment and fiery explosion of a runaway train loaded with 2 million gallons of crude oil that killed 47 people and destroyed downtown Lac-Mégantic, a town of 6,000, a three-hour drive east of Montreal.

The article, headlined “Are our railways less and less safe?” also quoted Teamsters Union National Legislative Director Don Ashley. He condemned the Precision Scheduled Railroading system used by Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and other Class I railways that makes working conditions unsafe.

To cut costs and increase profits the system is designed to “maximize the length and tonnage of trains, and reduce the number of workers,” Ashley said, pushing more work on fewer workers, with inhumane work schedules.

The railway bosses, cops, courts, and the government in Ottawa tried to frame up locomotive engineer Tom Harding — who had parked the train before ending his shift that night — and two other employees of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway on criminal negligence charges. But based on the facts presented during a three-month trial the jury acquitted all three.

“Lac-Mégantic: This is not an accident,” is a new documentary released by Quebecois film director Philippe Falardeau. It has been watched by tens of thousands in Canada. It says that the cost-cutting profit drive of the rail bosses in league with government officials was responsible for the disaster.

“There has been no amelioration of the rail safety problem over the past 10 years,” Tom Walsh, Harding’s lawyer, told the Militant by phone July 10. “The cost-cutting is the same. The shareholders want their money.”

“These companies are only interested in profit. Look what happened in East Palestine, Ohio,” Walsh told dayFREURO in an interview published July 6, referring to the derailment there of a 150-car Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride and other toxins.

Since the 2013 disaster the tracks were rebuilt through the center of Lac-Mégantic and trains still run day and night. “The trains are getting longer and longer and there’s more hazardous material,” resident Gilbert Carette, a member of the Citizens Coalition for Railway Safety, told the press at a July 6 rally at the side of the tracks there. “Equipment is just neglected.”

Canadian Pacific now owns the tracks and is pushing the government to start the construction of a railway bypass around the town, promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau under pressure from many Lac-Mégantic residents.

But Canadian Pacific’s approved bypass route — which would permit monster trains running at 40 mph through the region to east coast ports — is opposed by many area residents. Forty-two property owners are facing an expropriation deadline of Aug. 1 set by Ottawa.

Following his attendance at a somber July 6 memorial event for the 47 townspeople killed in 2013, Trudeau told the press he was determined to proceed with the expropriations.