Nine Charged in Connection With 2013 Quebec Train Derailment

The Wall Street Journal | June 22, 2015 | Column by David George-Cosh

The Canadian government said Monday it had laid charges against nine parties in connection with the deadly derailment of a crude-carrying train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013.

Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Eight parties were charged with violating the Railway Safety Act, according to the country’s transportation ministry, after an investigation found the train’s hand brakes hadn’t been properly applied. The country’s environment ministry, meanwhile, laid nine charges related to the unlawful dumping of crude oil into the town’s lake and a nearby river.

The charges were the first the Canadian government has laid in connection with the accident, in which an unattended train carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation jumped the tracks and erupted in flames. Forty-seven people were killed and a large part of the Quebec town’s core was destroyed.

All the individuals charged by the transportation ministry worked for the train’s operator, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd., or MM&A, which is now defunct. They include the train’s driver, Thomas Harding, and Jean Demaître, a train operations manager. The two men separately pleaded not guilty last year to criminal charges filed by Quebec prosecutors in connection with the accident.

Also charged on Monday was Robert Grindrod, who was chief executive of MM&A; Lynne Labonté, the former general manager of transportation for MM&A; Kenneth Strout, a former director of operating practices for MM&A; and Mike Horan, a former assistant director of transportation for MM&A.

Mr. Grindrod said he wasn’t aware of the charges when contacted by The Wall Street Journal. “What you’ve just told me is the first I’ve heard about these charges,” he said.

Tom Walsh, Mr. Harding’s lawyer, questioned why Canada had waited for two years to lay charges against his client. He also noted the role that hand brakes played in the incident had long been an issue.

“Mr. Harding clearly stated that on July 7 [2013], after the accident, when he met with the police officers, how many hand brakes he applied. That hasn’t been a secret,” Mr. Walsh said.

Ms. Labonté; Gaétan Bourassa, Mr. Demaître’s lawyer; and Bob Keach, the bankruptcy trustee for MM&A, weren’t immediately available for comment. Mr. Strout declined to comment. Attempts to reach Mr. Horan weren’t successful.

MM&A and its Canadian subsidiary were also charged. If found guilty, they could face fines up to one million Canadian dollars, or about US$815,000.

Each of the individuals charged could face a fine of as much as C$50,000, up to six months in jail, or both.

Representatives for Environment Canada weren’t immediately able to provide details on that ministry’s charges.

A Quebec Superior Court judge is expected to soon rule on a compensation fund for deaths and damage caused by the accident. Oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Marathon Oil Corp.ConocoPhillips and Irving Oil Ltd. have contributed to the $345 million fund earmarked to compensate victims of the accident and to clean up the site.

Last summer, Canadian transportation safety regulators said 18 factors led to the accident, including a weak safety culture at MM&A. The safety regulator also called for tougher rail standards in the movement of hazardous goods, including crude oil.

Since then, Transport Canada issued several directives to improve rail-safety protocols. These include removing the most vulnerable tank cars from service within three years, reducing the speeds of trains carrying dangerous goods and devising emergency plans for trains carrying crude oil, gasoline and other dangerous fuels.

Write to David George-Cosh at [email protected]

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.