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

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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.

MMA Manager testifies to lack of safety culture by policy

Damning details about callous decisions come out.  Employees were left basically on their own.  Readily available safety measures were avoided by policy.

Testimony to follow will show that the failure by MMA to address increased length and weight of the volatile oil trains made the existing 9 hand brake requirement irrelevant to preventing the wreck.

Horan testified that it was policy that crews were NOT allowed to use automatic brakes as part of securing equipment.  This one factor, had it not been in force under pain of discipline, could have prevented the wreck.

Lac-Mégantic trial hears 9 handbrakes should have been used to secure tanker train

MMA employee in charge of safety in Quebec testifies he had few resources and no training, just rule books

By Alison Brunette, CBC News Posted: Oct 12, 2017 6:55 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 12, 2017 6:55 PM ET

Michael Horan, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway's assistant director, said he told police after the Lac-Mégantic disaster that nine handbrakes should have been applied to the train that rolled away on its own from Nantes, Que., derailing 13 kilometres down the track.

Michael Horan, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway’s assistant director, said he told police after the Lac-Mégantic disaster that nine handbrakes should have been applied to the train that rolled away on its own from Nantes, Que., derailing 13 kilometres down the track. (Radio-Canada)

The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway employee in charge of safety and training in Quebec said after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, he told police a minimum of nine handbrakes should have been applied to the train parked at Nantes, Que., on July 5, 2013.

That train, carrying 73 tanker cars, rolled 13 kilometres down the tracks and derailed near the centre of the town of Lac-Mégantic. The resulting explosions and fires killed 47 people.

MMA’s assistant director of transportation, Michael Horan, is the 11th witness to appear at the trial of three former MMA employees charged with criminal negligence in those deaths: locomotive engineer Thomas Harding, 56, train controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53.

In the Crown’s opening statement at the start of the trial before Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas, the prosecution said it will enter into evidence a tape recording of Harding telling Labrie after the derailment that he had only applied seven handbrakes to the train.

Under cross- examination at the Sherbrooke courthouse Thursday, Horan told the court he based his police statement on the number of handbrakes that should have been applied on a chart in a handbook on railway safety regulations.

Few resources, no training

Horan, who started working for MMA in 2003, told the court that although he was in charge of safety and training for all Quebec MMA employees, he never had an official job description, nor was he given any instruction on how to teach safety standards to  employees.

“So you were just given books filled with rules and expected to make do?” asked Thomas Walsh, Harding’s lawyer.

“Yes,”  Horan replied.

Walsh also asked Horan if he knew about rules introduced in 2001 requiring companies to have a safety management system in place in order to be proactive and mitigate risks.  Horan said pamphlets were left in some Quebec stations for employees to read, but that’s all.

Questioned about what changes were made to the practice of parking MMA trains in Nantes after the railway began hauling long convoys of crude oil, Horan said there weren’t any — and that no adjustments had been made based on the train’s content or weight.


The 73-car train carrying crude oil derailed 13 kilometres from where it had been parked. The ensuing explosions and fire killed 47 people.

He also told the court how MMA management in the U.S. had instituted one-man crews at its Quebec branch office in Farnham shortly before the tragedy.

He said that although locomotive engineers did have special certification to operate a train alone, there was pushback from some employees about starting the practice.

“Certain staff were not in favour of it,” he said, adding “the only requirement MMA asked for when the one-man crews began in Farnham was for a mirror to be installed on the conductor’s side.”

Reliance on automatic brakes

The bulk of Horan’s testimony revolved around questions about the different brake systems on a train, and the rules, regulations and tests used when applying a train’s handbrakes.

Crown prosecutor Sacha Blais asked Horan about an email he’d received from MMA superintendent Paul Budge asking him to remind Harding not to leave the train’s automatic brakes on when a convoy is parked.

“I know that all locomotive engineers had been informed of this issue,” he said, speaking specifically of train engineers working between Farnham and Megantic, “because they are the ones who used the automatic brakes on unattended trains.”

He explained that according to safety regulations, the automatic brakes should have been released when a train is parked, and only the hand brakes should be used to secure a train.

Horan is expected back on the stand Tuesday.


Accountability Foreclosed, Justice Denied

The Lac-Mégantic Disaster: Accountability Foreclosed, Justice Denied

Bruce Campbell

The trial of the three front-line workers charged with criminal negligence causing death in the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster, has now begun in a Sherbrooke, Québec courtroom. If found guilty, they could face life in prison. The defunct company, MMA, faces the same charges but its trial will be held at a later date. What are the consequences of an extinct corporate shell being found guilty, but minus charges against its executives and owner: none.

Many people in Lac-Mégantic believe that the right people are not on trial. I agree with them. The crown’s case will exclusively target the men closest to the disaster: those at the bottom of the pyramid of accountability. But individuals at higher levels of the pyramid have escaped accountability. They have not been blamed for their role in the disaster. Who are they?

Senior executives and directors of the delinquent company MMA, especially the owner Ed Burkhardt; no significant decisions were made without his permission: not held to account.

Transport Canada senior officials and the Minister, who allowed this delinquent company to continue operating without any sanctions; allowed it to cut corners and play Russian roulette with public safety; whose highly defective oversight system failed catastrophically: not held to account.

Conservative government leaders who exhibited complacency and casual indifference to the dangers of the mammoth surge in the transportation of volatile oil by rail: not held to account.

Industry lobbyists who pressured senior officials and politicians not to implement additional regulations to deal with this new and dangerous phenomenon: not held to account.

The senior Transport Canada official(s) who made the decision [with the tacit support of superiors]—over major opposition within Transport Canada itself and the unions—to allow MMA to operate its 12,000-ton high hazard oil trains through cities and towns piloted by a single person crew: not held to account.

The industry lobby, the Railway Association of Canada [RAC], which led the controversial redrafting of the Canadian rail operating rules, with Transport Canada’s complicity, creating a loophole that allowed companies to operate single person crew trains with virtually no conditions to ensure an equivalent level of safety; and which then lobbied aggressively on behalf of this blatantly negligent company to be the first in Canada to run massive oil trains with a single person crew: not held to account.

Conservative government leaders who were responsible for a dysfunctional culture within Transport Canada, and in the name of austerity starved its resources—including reducing the rail safety directorate’s budget by 20% during the years when oil by rail was increasing exponentially— impeding its capacity to cope with this emergent reality: not held to account.

A regulation-averse prime minister responsible for instituting a notorious one-for-one rule policy requiring agencies which proposed a new regulation, to eliminate at least one existing regulation regardless of its impact on safety, on the pretext that cutting “red tape” would unleash market forces of job creation and economic growth; a policy which likely stonewalled the implementation of regulations that might have mitigated the risks of this new threat: not held to account.

Deregulation by both Conservative and Liberal governments, which systematically weakened or eliminated regulations, replacing them with voluntary codes and industry self-regulation [euphemistically called co-regulation] with limited or no direct oversight by governments.

A rail safety regime that continues to rely on human infallibility and the discredited myth of corporate self-regulation, and expecting another result is, to paraphrase Einstein, the definition of insanity. Lac-Mégantic was collateral damage of decades of deregulation. And yet only those at the bottom of the responsibility pyramid have been blamed. None of those on its upper levels have admitted their role or been held to account. Until this happens the lessons of Lac-Mégantic will not have been learned; and justice for the citizens of Lac-Mégantic will be denied.

Bruce Campbell is former executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. In 2015, he was awarded a Law Foundation of Ontario Fellowship for his work on the Lac-Mégantic disaster; and spent 2016 at the University of Ottawa law faculty. He is currently writing a book on this tragedy.