The Most Important Rail Safety Trial In North America Comes To A Critical Point

All The Evidence Has Been Presented

The Wrong People Are On Trial

 

The most important criminal trial of our time regarding the breadth of rail safety issues facing both rail workers and communities is about to conclude. On January 3rd, 4th and 5th, 2018; lawyers for the three railroaders being framed up for the disastrous wreck that took place on July 6th, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec will present their closing statements before the case goes to the jury for deliberation. The jury’s decision will determine whether these men will spend the rest of their lives in jail as well as closing the books on the official record of what happened in that small town more than 4 years ago.

The importance of the case cannot be overstated. Rail safety activists know that most times when rail safety concerns enter the public sphere, they are either distorted by Labor relations issues, or misunderstood by public misrepresentation. The Lac-Mégantic trial is different because the reckless result of dangerous policy decisions by railroad managers is now public record in a criminal proceeding. This almost never happens.

In the course of the 3 months since the scapegoating trial began, the government’s own witnesses, 34 of them, repeatedly cut the legs from under the narrative of the prosecution. The story was supposed to be that three railroaders…Harding the Engineer, Labrie the dispatcher, and De Maître the Supervisor…were CRIMINALLY negligent and it resulted in 47 deaths and huge destruction.

After all the prosecution’s witnesses finished; the defense teams collectively have determined that there are no additional facts or testimonies that needed to be added to the record…only the summing up of the evidence. They are staking their defense that the jury has already seen everything they need to, in understanding that these men are not guilty of criminal negligence.

Witness after witness testified how profit driven reckless policies actually prevented the safe course from being taken. Yet they were reminded more than once by the Judge, that “the company is not on trial”.

The jury learned that the railroad managers had zero budget and no practical efforts for safety or rules training on the job, leaving employees to argue among themselves about the application of rules that in many cases had changed dramatically over time.

They learned that the Montreal Maine and Atlantic (MMA) overloaded the most dangerous kind of cargo train by thousands of tons past their regulatory limits, but there was no company OR GOVERNMENT oversight regarding those practices.

They learned that the MMA purposely made the trains too long to fit into protected sidings that existed at the location, while running them with single crew members who had no options for operation except moving forward. Nothing else could be done.

Witnesses established that Harding was given a known defective locomotive that could easily have been switched from its dangerous role and repositioning it was actually requested by others; but the managers refused. Harding was given no warning concerning the known defects. It was established that the MMA had taken no measures to prepare anyone for a disaster that involved fire, despite hauling 72 overloaded cars of explosive oil.

What the jury has seen so far, including hours of recorded radio and phone calls by railroaders, is a workplace, by policy, with no vision of a safety priority, driven only by the relentless push for more and more transport at any cost.

Perhaps most damning was the evidence that Harding had been reprimanded and threatened with further discipline IF he used the train’s automatic brakes as part of securing the stationary train. This matter alone probably condemned the Lac-Mégantic victims to death because that simple normal rail procedure would most likely have prevented the runaway despite everything else.

While seeing the obvious outrageous excess of recklessness by the MMA, every railroader across the continent will recognize common themes on their own properties.  This is why the outcome of THIS trial is key to North American rail safety.

  • Less and less money spent on anything, especially training or supervision; that doesn’t directly affect “shareholder value” in a positive way
  • Removal of all safety related back ups, leaving single points of failure as a normal way of operating.
  • Longer, heavier more deadly cargoes….fewer crewmembers….less maintenence.
  • No backup crews available, meaning more and more chronic fatigue and disrupted distracting worklives. No one to call.

There is still a significant danger to all railroad work that the Lac-Mégantic trial may end in a conviction. Everyone should be clear that a conviction would be a signal to the industry that is already poised, that it is open season on these and other relentlessly dangerous ways of railroading. A conviction will justify their push into more and more single crew operations of skeleton operations where there are no safeguards and everyone is overextended. There is no liability for creating these conditions if they see they have been successful in pushing off responsibility for the criminal outcomes on the very people who are pushed under conditions of their employment to operate in reckless situations.

That’s why all folks who understand the importance of these issues for rail worker and community safety need to add their voices to the call for an acquittal and dropping of the charges in this critically important case.

Across the US, groups of rail workers and their allies and supporters will be holding informational pickets at Canadian consulates on January 4, 2018, holding the Canadian government accountable for the outcome and demanding real and meaningful rail safety for all of us.

SAFE TRAINS NOW!

NO MORE LAC-MÉGANTICS!

Harding & Labrie Are Not Guilty!

Drop the Charges NOW!

 

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