In Lac-Megantic disaster, oil train operators face criminal charges
The rail line involved in the 2013 Lac-Megantic oil train derailment, which killed 47 people, now faces criminal charges for breaking Canadian safety and environmental laws. The disaster raised questions about oil train safety throughout North America.
Criminal charges have been filed against the rail line involved in the huge oil train crash in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people in 2013, along with a subsidiary and several individuals for allegedly violating Canadian safety and environmental laws.
Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Railway Ltd. (MM&A), the now-bankrupt railroad based in Hermon, Maine, and its subsidiary, the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Co., were charged with breaking the federal Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act.
The individuals charged on June 22 under the Railroad Safety act were Robert Grindrod, the CEO of the railroad, and the train’s driver, Thomas Harding. Also charged were Lynne Labonté, the company’s general manager of transportation; Kenneth Strout, director of operating practices; Jean Demaitre, manager of train operations; and Mike Horan, assistant transportation director. (Related: Latest DOE Report Slams Canada’s Oil Sands)
Environment Canada didn’t immediately release the identities of those charged under the Fisheries Act, who are accused of allowing oil and other foreign substances to leak into the lake and the Chaudiere River, fouling the water and killing many fish.
Grindrod said by voicemail from his home in Maine that he had not been formally served with the charges and knew about them only through the news media. As a result, he said, “I am not going to say anything based on that.”
The charges were based on the results of an investigation by Transport Canada, which said that a 72-car MM&A train carrying crude oil from North Dakota rolled down a hill and derailed on the early morning of July 6, 2013, in the small Quebec town about 160 miles east of Montreal.
The train, unattended, was supposed to have stayed in place, but the probe determined that only seven handbrakes on the train had been set, and that they had been improperly tested to ensure that the train could not roll free. (Related: Major Shift In Asian Commodity Demand Already Underway)
The train derailed and exploded in flames, destroying 40 buildings and killing 47 people, either as they enjoyed a summer’s night out in the lakeside town or as they were sleeping. It was the deadliest rail disaster in North America in the past two decades.
Violations of the Railway Safety Act are punishable by fines of up to C$1 million for companies and as much as $50,000 and six months in prison for individuals. There are stricter penalties for violations of the Fisheries Act.
The charges come amid a court fight over the disposition of a $430 million settlement for the families of those killed in the disaster. One companies expected to contribute to the fund is Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP), which handled the first leg of the oil’s journey from North Dakota. It relayed the task to MM&A in Montreal, before the accident occurred and has refused to contribute. (Related: Why Buffett Bet A Billion On Solar)
CP argues that it played no role in the accident and that as a result the Quebec court considering the case lacked jurisdiction. If CP’s argument is accepted, compensation to victims’ families could be delayed for years.
One of those who would receive such a payout is Raymond Lafontaine, a local businessman who lost his son, two daughters-in-law and an employee in the accident. He told The Globe and Mail of Toronto that even two years after the accident, investigators have yet to get to the bottom of the accident.
“I agree there should be justice, but … it feels like we’re still looking for people to blame,” Lafontaine said.
He said he suspects more senior officials of MM&A are responsible and should be held accountable for the disaster, but held out little hope that all the guilty parties would be identified. “We’re going to bring this to our graves,” he said.
By Andy Tully Of Oilprice.com
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