Tom Harding and Richard Labrie Did Not Cause The Lac-Mégantic Tragedy

Any conviction of rail workers at the end of the long danger chain is an obstacle to safety or accountability

That can only come from a full public inquiry that holds policy makers responsible.

Here’s a review of some of the critically important factors that will never be addressed by scapegoating rail workers

The Montreal Maine and Atlantic (MMA) rail management and their US based parent company Rail World Inc put communities and employees at risk across the region, and not just in the specific instance of the Lac-Mégantic wreck. These increased risks almost all still exist, without local benefits or safeguards. None of the volatile crude oil shipped contributes to the regional economy but all the risks are local.

MMA made the deliberate decision to run unit trains of the most explosive oil:

  • With a single crew member who could ONLY move the train forward. Reverse moves and splitting for any safety eventuality was prohibited by this decision.
  • In known inadequate tank cars that were mislabeled as to content.
  • too long to fit in the available derail protected siding, which are designed for the purpose of holding such trains and use of which would have guaranteed that the wreck couldn’t have happened.
  • with completely inadequate liability insurance for any risks they imposed on communities.
  • without any plan for fire and other consequences that might occur with it’s dangerous cargo.
  • without backup qualified staff to respond to eventualities such as the locomotive fire. They refused to send the only and obvious qualified person available (Harding) to check the train in order to save money. Ruthless cutting of the workforce made qualified backup unavailable.

MMA made the deliberate decision to run the locomotive that caught fire in the lead despite:

  • known defective repair that ultimately led to the fire
  • known defective performance that also increased local environmental damage
  • known defective rollaway protection in the wiring of the battery
  • requests for the simple reordering of the consist that would have absolutely prevented the wreck

MMA made the decision to purposely overload the safety weight limits on individual inadequate tank cars for the sole purpose of profit with no concern for consequences of their action. There was no meaningful oversight of this crucial aspect of safety by Transport Canada or anyone else.

MMA set a specific standard for handbrakes that had already been made obsolete by their own decision to increase train length and weight. No corrections were made. That decision was made without any responsibility for assuring securement.

MMA threatened employees with discipline for using the available automatic air brake system in securing these most dangerous trains on grades. This alone would almost certainly have prevented an unforeseeable runaway and is standard in the industry. The most dangerous cargo was purposely left without every available securement, by policy.

MMA had a ZERO safety budget and by policy had no training or followup to insure understanding. Testimony showed that employees were left completely on their own in understanding and interpreting the inadequate rules that existed. Even copying of safety documents was unavailable.

The North American rail industry organizations have never called out the practices of the MMA and have even, in Canada, promoted and defended the outrageous MMA practice of not using train air brakes as a part of securing equipment. They also completely endorse the idea of single employee train operations, even though such operations are inherently dangerous and add unnecessary risk before, during and after dangerous events.

Transport Canada, the supposed watchdog agency that should have been able to determine of the public safety was protected, stated they had no authority to determine MMA rule compliance with even their own rules.

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