‘It’s too bad to see these go’: Montreal, Maine and Atlantic locomotive auction in Milo draws scrap dealers, rail operators

Posted Aug. 05, 2014, at 2:11 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 05, 2014, at 6:22 p.m.

MILO, Maine — A Lac-Megantic city councilor was on hand for the dismantling Tuesday of the freight hauler whose runaway train destroyed most of the small Quebec town last year, killing 47 people.

The successful auction of 35 Montreal, Maine and Atlantic and Rail World Inc. locomotives drew close to 40 railway operators, scrap dealers and railway parts suppliers in person and via the Internet, said Adam Jokisch, president and CEO of Adam’s Auction and Real Estate Services.

The auction was held at the Derby Rail Yard.

Jokisch declined to say how much the auction earned. Lac-Megantic City Councilor Daniel Gendron, who traveled about 175 miles by motorcycle to attend, said the sale appeared to gross about $2.05 million. Gendron said curiosity drove him to attend the auction. He said he wanted to see if it would raise enough money to help with the ongoing cleanup from the July 6, 2013 disaster.

“I think it was nothing,” Gendron said Tuesday of the amount of money grossed. “It does not pay for the destruction and loss of life. It doesn’t pay for the children who lost their parents. I lost my house.”

Gendron saw Edward Burkhardt, president of MMA parent company Rail World, sitting under a tent Adam’s Auction had set for the auctioneers in the front yard of the railway’s repair facility. The auction was private but close enough to the yard fence so that the auction was easily heard.

“I feel sad because he looks so old,” Gendron said of Burkhardt, whom Maclean’s, Canada’s largest newsmagazine, called “the most hated man” in the town a week after the accident. Burkhardt did not make himself available to media following the auction.

Bangor Savings Bank hired Adam’s to recoup a loan made to MMA, which was forced into bankruptcy by the disaster. Several civil lawsuits have been filed in Canada and the U.S. against the bankrupt railroad, including one by the government of Quebec for $409 million for the cleanup and reconstruction in Lac-Megantic.

A judge in bankruptcy court in Bangor approved a motion on July 24 allowing the auction to proceed.

Lac-Megantic continues to struggle in the aftermath of the disaster. The cleanup crew tasked with removing 500,000 tons of soil contaminated by the train’s oil tankers walked off the job on Monday in response to a dispute with the Quebec regional government over cleanup standards, Gendron said.

For Bill Daniels of Milo, the auction represented a different kind of disaster — the end of more than a century of rail service in the Derby section of Milo. Daniels came to the auction with his son-in-law, CJ Amara of Boston, hoping to get into the rail yard, but it remained closed.

Daniels spent several minutes describing the locomotives being auctioned as he remembered them when he serviced them. Many of them, he said, had been auctioned before by other Maine railroads that have shut down over the years as northern Maine’s manufacturing base slowly eroded.

“I hate to see it but I knew it was going to happen with all the mills shutting down,” said Daniels, a retired electrician who worked in the yard for three years. “At one time, the mills were 65, maybe 70 percent of our total business. I have no way of knowing what they are going to do, but I hope they [railway operators] come back here.”

All of the former railroad’s assets belong to New York-based Fortress Investment Group, operating as the Central Maine and Quebec Railway, which closed on its purchase of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway’s U.S. assets in May. It bought the company’s U.S. and Canadian assets for $15.85 million. Executives at Central Maine did not immediately respond Tuesday to messages left at their Hermon headquarters. The company’s website mentions car repair but doesn’t say whether the repair will continue at the Derby yard.

Bids on the locomotives ranged from $10,000 to $200,000, Jokisch said. The bidders came from Maine, Texas and Mexico. Several left empty-handed. Joseph Pinkham of B and S Scrap Recycling of Hudson bought five locomotives for about $100,000, he said.

Pinkham said his company would sell off usable parts and cut the remainder of the locomotives into manageable chunks at the Derby yard before shipping them out on trucks. With a single locomotive weighing about 200 tons, the work might take awhile, he said.

“It’s too bad to see these go,” said one of Pinkham’s recyclers, Lucas Wilde of Exeter, “but times change.”