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.

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