A trial in one case arising from the derailment and explosion of a runaway oil train in 2013 that killed 47 people and incinerated downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and the conclusion of another, have revealed chronic corporate negligence on the part of both the now-bankrupt rail line, and the owner of the oil it was carrying.
In testimony unsealed last week, a former locomotive engineer for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) revealed that his employer forbade him from refusing to operate a train “even when he knew it was over the maximum allowed weight,” CBC News reports.
Other testimony established that the maximum weight allowed by official manuals for an MMA train at the time of the derailment was 6,300 tonnes. The train that derailed weighed 9,100 tonnes—more than 44% more than the manual permitted.
François Daigle drove the same route with a similar train to the one that escaped its brakes and exploded just days earlier. He “told the court it was common practice for the company’s top management to play loose with established railway regulations,” CBC reports.
MMA was also tight-fisted with its maintenance, Daigle testified.
“A lot of locomotives were reported several times, but nothing was ever done,” he told the court. He had driven the locomotive involved in the catastrophe just two days earlier, and noticed that it “kept losing speed and produced black smoke.” When he reported the problem to the company’s repair shop at the end of his shift, he was scolded for “complaining” and told, “this is what we have.”
An emotional Daigle was testifying in the trial of fellow engineer Thomas Harding, operations manager Jean Demaitre, and controller Richard Labrie. The men, all in their 50s, are each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.
Coincidentally, Irving Oil was ordered last week to pay $4 million after pleading guilty to 34 counts of failing to follow appropriate safety procedures stemming from a joint Transport Canada-RCMP investigation into the disaster.
“The investigation revealed that Irving Oil had not complied with all applicable safety requirements by not classifying the crude oil being carried by trains as a dangerous good,” the Globe and Mail reports. “In addition, the shipping documents onboard the trains were incorrect.” According to Transport Canada, Irving also failed to train its employees adequately in the transportation of dangerous goods.
In the wake of the disaster, Canada banned the type of rail car involved in the accident. But a U.S. Department of Transportation audit initiated after the disaster concluded that regulators had “no overall understanding of the national risk environment” from the rail transport of hazardous goods in that country. Canada’s and America’s rail networks are closely integrated, with the same cars, trains, and crews often operating in both countries.