Three people, rail company face charges in Lac-Megantic disaster

The wreckage of a train is pictured July 6, 2013, after an explosion in Lac-Megantic.
MATHIEU BELANGER | REUTERS
The wreckage of a train is pictured July 6, 2013, after an explosion in Lac-Megantic.
Posted May 12, 2014, at 9:26 p.m.
Last modified May 12, 2014, at 10:50 p.m.

Prosecutors say three people and a train company will face criminal negligence charges in connection with the disaster that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last summer, according to The Canadian Press.

The news agency reported that Thomas Harding, Jean Demaitre and Richard Labrie, employees of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., had been arrested. Harding was the engineer who left a train parked at a siding outside the Quebec town before it started downhill and exploded in the center of the town. Demaitre was manager of the Maine-based railroad’s train operations and Labrie was in charge of rail circulation at the time of the crash, according to Canadian press reports.

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt issued a statement after the news of the charges broke.

“I understand that this is difficult for those affected by the tragic incident in Lac-Megantic,” Raitt said. She declined to make further comments.

The arrests might be the culmination of a Canadian criminal investigation that began July 6, when an unmanned and runaway train derailed and exploded in the heart of the small Quebec town. It was unclear whether further charges are expected or other Canadian law enforcement efforts would resume Tuesday. Canadian police a nnounced the end of the investigation on March 24.

The explosion spurred safety reviews on both sides of the border. Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s review was finished first, with state Department of Transportation officials saying that no major flaws were found in Maine’s rail system.

Federal reviews that include congressional hearings and directives from the Federal Railroad Administration have produced calls for replacement of the DOT-111 tanker car and the elimination of one-man train crews.

The train’s sole crewman, Harding, had parked it per company procedures at the end of his shift, according to Guy Farrell, assistant to the Quebec director of the United Steelworkers Union. The Lac-Megantic train’s oil, which was carried in those cars, was found to be far more explosive than originally thought.

Union members spoke of Harding as a scapegoat for policies created by railroad management. The railroad filed for bankruptcy in Canadian and U.S. courts a month after the accident. Several victims’ lawsuits are pending, while the bankruptcy sale of the railway’s assets is due to close on May 15.

BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. and Reuters contributed to this report.

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