Lac-Megantic rail line might reopen next month; railway company rehiring workers fired after crash

The wreckage of a train is pictured after an explosion in Lac-Megantic on July 6. A fireball leveled the center of the picturesque lakeside town after the runaway freight train with 72 cars of crude oil derailed, killing 47 people. The train was owned by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Corp.
MATHIEU BELANGER | REUTERS
The wreckage of a train is pictured after an explosion in Lac-Megantic on July 6. A fireball leveled the center of the picturesque lakeside town after the runaway freight train with 72 cars of crude oil derailed, killing 47 people. The train was owned by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Corp.
Posted Oct. 14, 2013, at 2:01 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 14, 2013, at 4:48 p.m.
Robert Keach
Contributed photo
Robert Keach

HERMON, Maine — The railway forced into bankruptcy by the fiery disaster in Canada that killed 47 people in July has rehired six to eight workers and will rehire more once the rail line damaged in the derailment is reopened next month, the railway’s operator said Monday.

Robert Keach, the trustee appointed by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Bangor to operate Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway until the bankruptcy process concludes, said that Transport Canada officials told the Canadian court-appointed monitor of MMA’s sister company in Canada that the line would reopen possibly by Thanksgiving Day, or Nov. 28.

The recognition “will definitely increase revenue to the railroad systems in the U.S. and Canada,” Keach said Monday. “It will increase the revenue [generated by MMA] and the value of the entire railway system [owned by MMA] accordingly.”

The company’s recent transition from one- to two-man train crews in the U.S. forced the rehiring, Keach said. More rehires will likely occur as the company’s revenues increase. He did not have a precise count on the number of total layoffs or expected rehires.

An unmanned train whose sole operator had gone home at the end of his shift crashed through the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic on July 6, killing 47 people and causing an estimated $200 million in property damage.

A company official said the engineer might have failed to set enough brakes to keep the train secure. Canadian and U.S. authorities are completing investigations and safety reviews spurred by the accident.

Canadian media reported Monday that Transport Canada, the agency regulating rail safety and investigating the disaster, has told Lac-Megantic businesses that the track in and around the derailment area was unsafe.

Businesses in Quebec and Ed Burkhardt, president of MMA parent company Rail World Inc., have been critical of the delay in reopening the track because of the expense of the transshipping arrangements set in the wake of the tragedy.

MMA laid off at least 60 workers in response to the tragedy. The company began operation in January 2003 and owns 510 route miles of track in Maine, Vermont and Quebec. It employed about 170 people immediately before the disaster, according to its website.

The MMA operated about 15 trains daily with a fleet of 26 locomotives between Millinocket and Searsport and from Brownville Junction to Montreal, the website states.

The economic impact of the closed rail line has been felt in the Milo and Brownville areas, in particular.

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