The stakes in the Lac-Mégantic scapegoating trial of Harding and Labrie escalate

Failure to hold the railroads accountable for the conditions they create will be prelude to a resurgence of risky oil shipment practices

Costlier and more dangerous crude by rail set to rise again as oil production swells

New oilsands megaprojects are set to open and pipeline capacity is at a premium

By Kyle Bakx, CBC News Posted: Oct 31, 2017 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 31, 2017 5:37 AM ET

Oil by rail shipments will rise in Canada as production surges and new pipelines face delays.

Oil by rail shipments will rise in Canada as production surges and new pipelines face delays. (Matthew Brown/Associated Press)

With new oilsands megaprojects commencing operations in the next few months, the amount of oil traveling on rail lines could escalate, especially as construction of new pipelines is delayed.

The sentencing of Irving Oil last week to pay about $4-million in fines for its involvement in the Lac Megantic disaster of 2013 brought the issue of shipping oil on rail lines back into the spotlight.

The attention paid to moving crude by rail peaked after the explosion in Quebec, but has subsided since, as volumes of oil transported by railways have fallen.

‘You could see companies looking at knocking the dust off their rail strategy.’– Kevin Birn, IHS Energy

Oilsands production keeps growing and will surge once Suncor’s Fort Hills facility and Canadian Natural’s Horizon project begin processing bitumen in the coming months.

“With the supply growth that is going to be happening, late this year [and] next year — there just simply is not enough physical capacity to move those barrels to market on pipelines that are currently available, so it will have to go to market on rails,” said Martin King, a commodities analyst with GMP FirstEnergy in Calgary.

He’s already noticing higher volumes being moved by trains.

“We’re starting to see more and more indications of barrels getting on the rails especially in September through October,” he said. “It’s slowly trending in that direction.”

Crude by rail exports


Crude by rail is more expensive than transporting crude oil by pipeline and considered more dangerous.

Production jump

The Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016 and an explosion at Syncrude’s facility this summer are two reasons why less oil was loaded into tank cars and exported out of Alberta during the last few years.

Suncor says it expects Fort Hills to be operating at 90 per cent capacity within 12 months of startup at the end of this year. The facility was built to produce about 200,000 barrels per day. The company won’t say how the crude will be shipped to refineries.

Estimated Canadian Export Pipeline Utilization

The oil industry acknowledges that crude by rail will become more prevalent in the coming years.

“Since the pipeline capacity out of Western Canada is essentially full and with increasing production coming on line, we would expect that more will have to move by rail,” said Chelsie Klassen of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Added costs

Large oilsands companies have constructed rail loading terminals in recent years or have access to those facilities. While the terminals may not have been busy in recent years, that could change.

“We think that amount of supply will overtake the available pipeline capacity, and we will see a resurgence of crude by rail,” said Kevin Birn, a Calgary-based oilsands analyst with IHS Energy. “In advance of that, you could see companies looking at knocking the dust off their rail strategy and start testing it out with refiners to make sure they are ready to move this by rail.”

Shipping by rail instead of pipeline is more expensive and can cost a company about $3 or $4, on average, per barrel, according to Birn, although that can vary as some companies own their own loading terminals and rail cars. Some have also signed contracts with railways. Increased costs for Canadian producers could result in less interest from investors.

“It’s a cost companies in the U.S. don’t face, so there are competitiveness issues. It’s an investment disadvantage,” he said.

Alberta oilsands production forecast

To be sure, new export pipelines are nearing construction, but they face obstacles.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion is delayed as it waits for permits in British Columbia. TransCanada’s Keystone XL is awaiting approval from state regulators in Nebraska. And Enbridge has run into problems in Minnesota with its Line 3 replacement project.

The National Energy Board examined what would happen if none of the major proposed pipeline projects were built (Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, Trans Mountain, and Energy East).

While the regulator’s analysis included many assumptions, it found that Canada’s crude by rail volume could climb to destinations such as the U.S. Gulf Coast, Midwest, and East Coast.

Potential problems with increased rail use include railway and terminal bottlenecks, tanker car shortages and competition with other commodities for transportation services in Canada.

Over and Over, the Government’s own witnesses prove that Harding and Labrie weren’t the cause of the Lac-Mégantic Wreck

Reckless policies, zero safety culture and the relentless drive for profit first.  These are the GOVERNMENT’S witnesses testifying to these facts.  Testimony still to come will show that the MMA’s standard for handbrakes would not have prevented the wreck and that as many as 26 handbrakes would have been required under the conditions created by MMA.  The wrong men are on trial.



Unsecured train left on MMA tracks just 2 days after Lac-Mégantic tragedy, trial hears

Transport Canada inspector found 89-car train with 5 handbrakes applied, half the required number

By Claude Rivest, CBC News Posted: Oct 30, 2017 5:42 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 30, 2017 5:43 PM ET

Retired Transport Canada inspector Alain Richer testified he and a colleague discovered an 89-car MMA train parked at Vachon, near Lac-Mégantic, two days after the deadly derailment had been left secured with half the required number of handbrakes.

Retired Transport Canada inspector Alain Richer testified he and a colleague discovered an 89-car MMA train parked at Vachon, near Lac-Mégantic, two days after the deadly derailment had been left secured with half the required number of handbrakes. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

Two days after a runaway train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, exploding and killing 47 people, Transport Canada inspector Alain Richer found another train belonging to the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway parked in nearby Vachon hadn’t been properly secured.

Richer, now retired, testified Monday at the trial of Thomas Harding, 56, Jean Demaître, 53, and Richard Labrie, 59. The three former MMA employees are charged with 47 counts each of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the 2013 rail disaster.

According to Richer, when he and another Transport Canada employee went to inspect the 89-car train, they noticed it had been secured with only five handbrakes.

“They hadn’t met the minimum required,” Richer testified.

He said MMA’s own internal regulations showed the train should have been secured with double that number of handbrakes.

To determine the minimum number of handbrakes, Richer testified, workers had to follow a simple calculation, outlined on a chart in the company’s general instructions: Take 10 per cent of the number of rails cars, then add two.

Based on that chart, the train parked in Vachon should have been secured with 10 handbrakes, Richer said.


The derailment of the runaway MMA tanker-train on July 6, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Que., triggered a series of explosions that killed 47 people. (Reuters)

When Richer noticed only five handbrakes had been applied, he contacted an MMA supervisor, who sent an employee to the site. That employee, Randy Stahl, performed a brake efficiency test on the train as Richer watched.

This essentially means engaging the locomotive’s throttle at its lowest power setting to see if it would move or stay put. The train didn’t move, passing the test.

Just the same, Stahl put on an additional seven handbrakes, bringing the number to 12. However, Michael Horan, MMA’s assistant director of operations, later added another three handbrakes, bringing the total to 15, the trial has heard.

Richer also testified that MMA employees had not inspected the tanker cars involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster. He said according to the rules and regulations, the cars didn’t warrant an inspection, as the train had already been certified by Canadian Pacific Rail employees at the Côte Saint-Luc yard before it left for Farnham.

Penalty brake failed to kick in

Richer also testified on tests he and a colleague performed on locomotive 5017, the lead locomotive involved in the July 6, 2013 derailment, to determine how long it took for the air brakes to lose their efficiency on the night the train derailed.

The court heard earlier in the trial that the locomotive had been shut down by firefighters who doused a fire on board about an hour before it rolled, unmanned, down the track towards Lac-Mégantic.

Richer said the test was to determine how much air was left inside the air conduit when the train broke away.

Harding’s lawyer asked the witness if the test was also to determine why the penalty brake — a type of backup defence, mean to prevent runaway trains — didn’t kick in.

“We already knew there was no emergency application. Indeed, we wanted to know why,” said Richer.

Richer said the test did identify the cause. The explanation of that cause is being left to another Crown witness, Stephen Callaghan, a rail expert who is to testify later in the trial.

Richer resumes his testimony before Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas and a 14-member jury at the Sherbrooke courthouse Tuesday.

MMA wasn’t alone in putting Lac-Mégantic and rail workers in danger

American Petroleum Institute Failed to Respond to Concerns of Oil Train Safety

On July 29, 2013 Thomas J. Herrmann of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) wrote a letter to Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API). The letter was in response to the oil train disaster that occurred earlier that month in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people and reduced the downtown to a… Continue reading

Learn about the MMA Locomotive defect that set the stage for the Lac-Mégantic wreck

Post by Jon Flanders, retired rail machinist.

“Non standard repair” of the broken out bore housing the cam bearing of the Lac-Mégantic locomotive that caught fire and led to the disaster is the understatement of the century. Take a good look at what the capitalist profits above all mentality looks like. Without strong unions behind the maintenance forces on the railroads standing in the way of “repairs”like this, expect more Lac-Mégantics.

“Following the accident, the locomotive consist was moved from Lac-Mégantic to a maintenance facility in Saint John for examination. A partial engine teardown of MMA 5017 was conducted (see Engineering Laboratory Report LP181/2013 for complete details). It was determined that the cam bearing had fractured when the mounting bolt was over-tightened after the cam bearing had been installed as part of a non-standard repair to the engine block. This temporary repair had been performed using a polymeric material, which did not have the strength and durability required for this use (Photo 14). Failure of the cam bearing reduced the engine oil supply to the valve train at the top of the associated power assembly. The decreased lubrication led to valve damage and eventually to a punctured piston crown. The damaged valves and piston crown allowed engine oil to flow into the cylinder and the intake and exhaust manifolds. Some of the engine oil collected in the body of the turbocharger. The engine fire later occurred in the exhaust stack due to the build-up and ignition of engine oil in the body of the turbocharger.”


Photo 14. Polymeric material applied to cam bearing bore and fractured cam bearing Photo of the polymeric material applied to cam bearing bore and fractured cam bearing

Image may contain: text

More Fallout from the Lac-Mégantic Investigation

Irving Oil pleads guilty, fined after probe into 2013 Lac Megantic disaster

 October 26, 2017 – 5:10pm
 October 26, 2017 – 5:55pm

Witness testifies that there were problems with all MMA locomotives but nothing was ever done about it.

Accused engineer Tom Harding wasn’t told of problem with locomotive, Lac-Mégantic trial hears

‘Could I have done something more?’ witness François Daigle says he still asks himself

By Alison Brunette, CBC News Posted: Oct 24, 2017 5:37 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 24, 2017 5:37 PM ET

Former MMA locomotive engineer testified that he still feels guilty about the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, wondering if he could have done anything to prevent it.

Former MMA locomotive engineer testified that he still feels guilty about the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, wondering if he could have done anything to prevent it. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

Former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) locomotive engineer François Daigle told the court he knew there was a mechanical problem with the locomotive at the front of the train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic when it left the station on July 5, 2013, but he didn’t tell the person who operated it.

Daigle stood in the witness box at the Sherbrooke courthouse for a fourth day on Tuesday, at times visibly shaken, repeatedly telling the defence he didn’t remember many of the elements pertaining to the days leading up to the disaster.

Daigle said he reported a problem with the 5017, the lead locomotive of the train that later derailed, hours before it left for Lac-Mégantic.

But when his supervisor did nothing, he didn’t tell anyone else about the problem.

Daigle’s fellow locomotive engineer, Thomas Harding, 56, as well as operations manager Jean Demaître, 53, and controller Richard Labrie, 59, are each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

Under cross-examination by Demaître’s lawyer, Gaétan Bourassa, Daigle told Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas and the 14-member jury that before Harding left for Lac- Mégantic with the convoy of crude oil tankers, Daigle saw him but didn’t mention the mechanical problems on the head locomotive.

“I remember I came across [Harding] in the cafeteria,” he said.

“He told you he was doing the fuel train?” asked Bourassa.

“Yes.” said Daigle. “I didn’t mention the 5017 [locomotive] to Tom.”

“Did you think to yourself, ‘If I had said something to Harding?'” asked Bourassa,

“Yes. I feel  guilty,” Daigle said. “I’ve often wondered if I could’ve done something.”

Problems with all MMA locomotives

Daigle told the court there were problems with all the MMA locomotives regularly, but nothing was ever done about it.

He said he sat on the company’s health and safety committee, made up of employees from Quebec and supervisors from the U.S., but he acknowledged he never brought up the issues with locomotives.


The derailment of the 73-tanker train on July 6, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic triggered a series of explosions. The ensuing fire killed 47 people. (CBC)

The employee who inspected the locomotive the morning before the derailment succeeded Daigle in the witness box.

Yves Gendreau, 42, is a former rolling stock inspector at MMA, and the 13th Crown witness to testify at the trial.

Gendreau testified he inspected locomotive 5017 on July 5, 2013.

“What did you notice about the locomotive that morning during the inspection,” asked prosecutor Marie-Éve Phaneuf.”

“There was nothing specific to repair on these locomotives, everything seemed okay,” he said.

Gendreau is expected to continue his testimony Wednesday.

MMA Management knew about weight and equipment defect problems and didn’t care

MMA train that derailed and exploded at Lac-Mégantic nearly 3,000 tonnes too heavy, trial hears

Former locomotive engineer François Daigle told jury he wasn’t allowed to refuse to move overweight train

By Alison Brunette, CBC News Posted: Oct 23, 2017 2:40 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 23, 2017 3:23 PM ET

Former MMA engineer François Daigle, who drove the locomotive that derailed two days before the 2013 rail disaster, testified that he pointed out several repair issues with the machine, but his concerns were dismissed as complaints.

Former MMA engineer François Daigle, who drove the locomotive that derailed two days before the 2013 rail disaster, testified that he pointed out several repair issues with the machine, but his concerns were dismissed as complaints. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

Breathing quickly, his voice quivering, François Daigle testified Thursday at the trial of his former colleagues on charges related to the 2013 deadly Lac-Mégantic trail derailment and explosions.

His testimony is only being reported now because it was subject to a publication ban until Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas lifted that ban Monday morning.

Daigle’s fellow locomotive engineer, Thomas Harding, 56, as well as operations manager Jean Demaitre, 53, and controller Richard Labrie, 59, are each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

Rules dictated maximum weight

Daigle, one of three MMA engineers who operated trains along the Farnham–to–Mégantic route, told the court it was common practice for the company’s top management to play loose with established railway regulations.

Referring to a regulation manual and documents which listed the contents and weight of the 73-car train that derailed on July 6, 2013, Daigle confirmed the maximum weight allowed for an MMA train during the period from April 1, 2013 to Nov. 30 was 6300 tonnes — not counting locomotives.

The train involved in the tragedy weighed 9100 tonnes.


Forty-seven people died after a runaway train carrying crude oil exploded and destroyed the centre of Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013. (Reuters)

Manager dismissed locomotive’s defects: Daigle

In his third day of testimony Monday, Daigle told the court there were often problems with locomotives at MMA.

“Things weren’t working great,” he said. “A lot of locomotives were reported several times, but nothing was ever done.”

Earlier in his testimony, Daigle told Dumas and the 14 jurors he drove locomotive 5017 — the same locomotive that was pulling the train that derailed two days later — from Vachon, near Lac-Mégantic, to Farnham on July 4, 2013.

Daigle said on that trip he noticed the locomotive kept losing speed and produced black smoke.

Daigle told the court he reported the problems to his supervisor, Jean Demaître, and sent a fax to the repair shop in Maine at the end of his shift.

Daigle said he asked Demaître to change the lead locomotive because of the repair issues.

“What was Demaître’s answer?” Crown prosecutor Marie-Éve Phaneuf asked.

“You’re complaining again?” Daigle said Demaître told him, continuing: “This is what we have, and at any rate, you are going to be receiving your pension after me.”

Daigle said he understood that to mean no changes would be made.

MMA disorganized, lacking resources, Daigle says

Under cross-examination by Charles Shearson, one of Harding’s lawyers, Daigle told the court he had worked at Canadian Pacific Railway before working for MMA.

Daigle said operating bulletins, which communicated information that wasn’t in the regulations manuals, were not always organized at MMA.

“At Canadian Pacific, you had a book or log of bulletins you could look at them and sign them,” he said.

“At MMA, they were more spread about all over the office,” he added. “I had talked about this in a health and safety meeting — that they should be grouped together.”

Daigle told the court CP had more resources than MMA and more personnel to provide training.

“We did simulations when we got a new operational bulletin at CP,” said Daigle, “which would help us understand the new rules.”

Daigle told the court having various regulations from different authorities sometimes caused confusion for the train engineers and conductors.  He said sometimes they had different interpretations of the same rule.

“The solution was to talk it out with each other and try to explain each other’s interpretations,” he said. “Otherwise, we would defer to the competent authority.”

“I don’t know if you’ll agree, but regulations can become complicated?” asked Shearson.

“Yes,” said Daigle, with a sigh.

Daigle is the twelfth witness in the trial, taking place at the Sherbrooke courthouse.

He returns the witness box for further cross-examination Tuesday.

MMA officer testifies to great increase in risky operations

Railway safety regulations called into question at Lac-Mégantic trial

MMA sent nearly twice as many convoys of crude oil through region in months before disaster, court hears

By Alison Brunette, CBC News Posted: Oct 16, 2017 6:19 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 16, 2017 6:19 PM ET

Michael Horan, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway's former assistant director, testified for a fourth day at the Sherbrooke courthouse Monday, describing a safety environment where few checks were put in place.

Michael Horan, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway’s former assistant director, testified for a fourth day at the Sherbrooke courthouse Monday, describing a safety environment where few checks were put in place. (Radio-Canada)

The former Montreal Maine and Atlantic (MMA) employee in charge of training and safety said  in the months before the 2013 Lac-Mégantic train disaster,

MMA nearly doubled the number of convoys carrying crude oil through the community each week.

It also increased the weight of those trains without putting in place any extra security measures, Michael Horan testified, although he said it did impose lower speed limits in some places as a way to compensate for damaged train tracks.

Horan, MMA’s former assistant director of transportation, was in the witness box for a fourth day at the Sherbrooke courthouse Monday, describing a safety environment at the company where few checks were put in place.

Forty-seven people died in the derailment and ensuing explosions and fires on July 6, 2013.

Charged with 47 counts each of criminal negligence causing death are train conductor Thomas Harding, 56, railway controller Richard Labrie, 59 and operations manager Jean Demaitre, 53.

Chance of fire never considered

Earlier in his testimony, Horan told the court the practice of trains operated by just one person had come into effect shortly before the rail disaster, despite pushback from some employees.

Under cross examination by Thomas Walsh, Harding’s lawyer, Horan told the court Monday that before switching to one-man crews, MMA took special measures to meet municipal and emergency response officials along the route between Farnham in the Monterégie region and Lac-Mégantic to talk about foreseeable problems.

Horan said the goal of those meetings was to ensure there were procedures in place in the event of an unforeseen incident, such as a derailment.

“There were more qualified people along the way to separate the trains and to check the crosswalks and emergency routes to go across,” he testified.

However, asked about the chance of a fire, Horan said that eventuality was never addressed.

“Did you discuss a fire that resulted because of speed — or a derailment?” asked Walsh.

“No,” Horan responded.

Rail Accident Report 20141027

The former head of safety for the MMA in Quebec, Michael Horan, testified no one ever planned for the possibility of a fire when emergency measures were discussed in planning for MMA’s adoption of single-person crews. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Under cross-examination by Gaétan Bourrassa, Demaitre’s lawyer, Horan told the court he sometimes replaced Demaitre, who was also his boss, in his duties.

He said both he and Demaitre operated with no budget.  He said they both had a company credit card but needed authorization to use it.

Michael Horan is expected back on the stand for further cross-examination Tuesday.

New stakes in the Lac-Mégantic frame up trial

The crucial importance of the Lac-Mégantic rail worker trial now underway is increased.

If Harding and Labrie are convicted, it will be seen and used by the rail industry in North America as vindication of their risky practices in handling cargoes like the one in the Lac-Mégantic wreck.  They will have escaped responsibility and railworkers and communities across the continent will be at risk.


Railway Age

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Canadian CBR revival?

Canadian CBR revival?

TransCanada Corp’s recent decision to abandon its $12 billion plan to build the Energy East pipeline, combined with delays to other export pipeline projects, may create a resurgence in crude by rail (CBR) from Canada, according to a report from Reuters.

“Calgary-based TransCanada said on [Oct. 5] it will abandon Energy East, which would have taken crude from Alberta to the Atlantic Coast,” the news agency reported. “The move came after Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) on Aug. 23 announced a tougher review process that would consider indirect greenhouse gas emissions.”

CBR is more expensive than pipeline for producers dealing with soft global oil prices. In the aftermath of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster, and other CBR accidents that followed, the perception remains that CBR is less safe than pipeline. However, oil industry stakeholders say regulations for major energy projects in Canada “are now so stringent it is unlikely any company will try to build a new export pipeline,” Reuters noted. “A global oil market slump has also diminished appetite for building multibillion-dollar pipelines.”

As a result, Canada’s increasing crude oil production, expected to temporarily exceed pipeline capacity through 2019, “could face a longer-term lack of pipeline capacity and subsequent lower prices if crude becomes bottlenecked in Alberta,” Reuters said. “While pipeline congestion is bad news for producers, it will prove a boon for rail terminal operators who were badly burned when oil prices and CBR volumes crashed in 2014.”

Several crude oil producers and energy industry analysts Reuters contacted said that CBR traffic will increase:

• TORQ Transloading expects to move up to 20,000 barrels per day (BPD) of CBR in 2018, a threefold increase over 2017. “We have seen a pickup in activity and heightened interest as we move into next year. Some people are signing contracts and there’s just more spot movement,” CEO Jarrett Zielinski said.

• U.S. Development Partners LP and Gibson Energy, operators of a Hardisty, Alberta, terminal, have signed a three-year contract with a customer to ship 30,000 BPD of Canadian crude to Oklahoma, starting in October, using up idle loading capacity.

• Analysts are expecting a surge in CBR exports later this year as two major oil sands projects in northern Alberta add 270,000 BPD to Canada’s current 3.85 million BPD of production. Three export pipeline projects currently under development—Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain, Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 and TransCanada’s Keystone XL—have been delayed by continuing environmental opposition and legal challenges. Analysts at Tudor Pickering Holt estimate Canadian CBR volumes will rise from fewer than 200,000 BPD in early 2018 to a peak of around 550,000 BPD in 2019, when the Trans Mountain and Line 3 expansions are scheduled to begin operating. And even though CBR costs are up to two times that of pipeline, low global crude oil prices mean some producers will have little choice but to deal with higher costs if pipeline delays persist.

“If it looks like Trans Mountain could get delayed for years, people will start to reconsider their approach as the cost of rail in the current price environment means it is really hard for producers to make a return,” Morningstar analyst Sandy Fielden told Reuters, adding that some producers may shut down production.