Greenville fire chief calls for inspection of local railroad tracks in wake of Quebec disaster

Posted July 24, 2013, at 11:52 a.m.
Last modified July 24, 2013, at 2:29 p.m.
Greenville Junction Depot
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Greenville Junction Depot
John Simko
John Simko
Robert Grindrod (left), president of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, and board chairman Edward Burkhardt at their corporate offices in Hermon in August 2009.
Michael C. York | BDN
Robert Grindrod (left), president of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, and board chairman Edward Burkhardt at their corporate offices in Hermon in August 2009. Buy Photo

GREENVILLE, Maine — The July 6 train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, has prompted Greenville Fire Chief John Simko to request that Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway do a thorough inspection of tracks running through the community.

In a letter sent to MMA President Robert Grindrod last week, Simko said that the train that exploded “was scheduled to pass through Greenville the next day. We have seen a significant increase in the number of crude oil-filled tanks passing over the tracks in our town in the past 18-24 months.”

MMA conducted a general railroad accident response training exercise for the Greenville Fire Department just one week before the Lac Megantic accident, according to the fire chief.

The derailment in Canada claimed 50 lives and caused millions of dollars in damage to the town, where clean-up efforts are just getting under way. MMA also was forced to lay off 79 of its 179 workers because of curtailed shipments.

MMA owns 510 miles of track in Maine, Vermont and Canada and operates 15 trains daily with a fleet of 26 locomotives, according to its website.

Simko also told Grindrod that Greenville had three train derailments in the late 1990s, “one of which involved a number of tanks of butane which nearly resulted in the evacuation of the downtown area. That incident was managed adequately by dozens of emergency personnel from two counties to prevent [an] explosion and avoid evacuation.”

Simko’s letter also pointed out that the MMA trains going through Greenville “pass very close — some closer than 100 feet — to residential neighborhoods, our hospital, our nursing home, a senior citizens’ housing complex, our school … and passes directly under Route 15, which is Greenville’s only public road access to the south.”

Simko said Monday morning that MMA Safety Director Ken Strout called him and said that Grindrod received his letter and will be responding soon.

The state is also taking steps to check the condition of the tracks, although Maine’s role is limited because the Federal Railroad Administration, or FRA, has jurisdiction over rail lines. However, Gov. Paul LePage signed an executive order on July 9, directing state agencies to:

• Review all available safety reports related to railroads in Maine compiled by the Federal Rail Administration, and request additional inspections if warranted.

• Request from the FRA a report on the results of inspections of the track, equipment and operations of the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic Railway.

• Use information as it becomes available on the cause of the Quebec train derailment to reassess the safety of Maine’s rail infrastructure and take appropriate action to mitigate any safety concerns.

• Continue to coordinate cooperation between Maine Department of Transportation track inspectors and the FRA.

Federal inspectors also plan to make unannounced checks on all Maine tracks this summer, according to published reports.

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