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Railcars from the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train wreck are seen in Lac-Mégantic in this July 9, 2013 photo. The freight train was carrying crude oil when it derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)
Railcars from the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train wreck are seen in Lac-Mégantic in this July 9, 2013 photo. The freight train was carrying crude oil when it derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)

Audio: Train engineer and railway company talk as Lac-Mégantic burns Add to ...

The following conversations took place on July 5 and 6, 2013, on the night of the devastating derailment in Lac-Mégantic. They were between railway engineer Tom Harding and company offices in Farnham, Que., and Maine. The transcripts, which are based on audio recordings of MM&A’s rail-traffic control communications, provide new insight into Mr. Harding’s actions before the derailment, as well as the uncertainty and panic that took hold in the chaotic hours after the crash.

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Listen

First conversation

11:04 p.m.

Length: 44 seconds

Harding calling RJ


RJ: CCF Farnham, bonjour

TH: Track release on the fuel

RJ: Yeah, go ahead, Tom.

TH: 5017 east of west, W-E-S-T siding switch euh, euh, Nantes right now.

RJ: West siding switch dead. Alright. 5017 – east E-A-S-T is cleared the west W-E-S-T, siding switch Nantes. 23h04, 2-3-0-4, is that correct, Tom?

TH: 2-3-0-4 west Nantes is correct. Tom Harding. Can you call me up a taxi, RJ?

RJ: Yeah. Right Away.

TH: I’ll call you from down below.

RJ: OK, thank you. RTC out.

TH: Tom out.


* * * * * * * *

Listen

Second conversation

11:38 p.m.

Length: 42 seconds

Harding calling RJ


RJ: CCF à Farnham.

TH: Yeah, RJ, me here.

RJ: Yes, yes, you.

TH: I’m off the clock at 45.

RJ: OK, you know that you’re supposed to send your ticket?

TH: Where?

RJ: Here.

TH: No, I didn’t.

RJ: When you’re through.

TH: Oh, I didn’t know that. When when did that start?

RJ: Euh, I think it started yesterday, I don’t know, something like that …

TH: Oh …

RJ: So tomorrow when you start to work …

TH: Send it in.

RJ: … send it in

TH: Okay.


* * * * * * * *

Listen

Third conversation

11:59 p.m.

Duration: 2 min. 39 sec.

RJ calling Harding at the Auberge hotel


FI: L’Auberge, bonsoir.

RJ: Oui, bonsoir, chemins de fer MMA. Mon, mon p’tit Canadien y est-tu dans to coin?

FI: Euh … ben normalement y viennent me le dire quand y arrivent pis là. J’ai pas eu de nouvelle.

RJ: Ok. Euh, lui y serait dans la 5 ou dans 15? Dans 5, je pense hein?

FI: Euh, ben on a 2 chambres, la 5 pis ou la 15 là, y en a 2 qui rentrent?

RJ: Ben y en a just 1 qui rente, y a juste Tom qui rente.

FI: Ha, mais je le sais pas …

RJ: Tu l’as pas vu?

FI: … dans quelle qui va.

RJ: Euh … essai-moi la 5 si vous plait

FI: La 5? OK.

RJ: Merci.

Beeps – phone rings

TH: Hello.

RJ: Hi, Tom …

TH: Yes, RJ.

RJ: Sorry to bother you.

TH: No problem.

RJ: Hey, euh, did you kill the units before leaving?

TH: Yes, four of them.

RJ: Which one did you keep running?

TH: 5017.

RJ: The leader?

TH: Yes.

RJ: Ok, apparently it’s – it went on fire

TH: It went on fire?

RJ: Yeah.

TH: Oh, really?

RJ: Yeah.

TH: Okay [laughs]. I had problems with that. I reported it to Dave. Have you talked to Dave?

RJ: No.

TH: Okay. I told Dave that I worked it hard coming up there and she was smoking pretty good when I left her.

RJ: Okay.

TH: Now you’re telling me she caught on fire?

RJ: Yeah, she caught on fire.

TH: Ok, somebody up there to take care of it or?

RJ: Yeah, well, the firemen were there.

TH: Yes?

RJ: And apparently it’s dead now …

TH: Oh.

RJ: And the the fire is, is all gone. It’s extinguished.

TH: Okay.

RJ: … and that’s all I know about it.

TH: Do I need to go up there, start …

RJ: No, no, no, no, Jean Noel Busque is. He went there to check if there’s any damage and he’s gonna call me back.

TH: Okay, call me back, RJ.

RJ: No, go to bed.

TH: There’s nothing to do, hey?

RJ: There’s nothing to do, we won’t start up an engine now. For tomorrow morning. He’s gonna start them up, the American is gonna start them up.

TH: Okay. So she caught on fire, then.

RJ: It might be a minor fire, mind you.

TH: Yeah, yeah.

RJ: It could be something in one of the traction motors, something like that.

TH: Ah.

RJ: But you killed the 4 units, you kept only 5017 running?

TH: That was the only one that was running, 5017.

RJ: Yeah, and it caught on fire. Okay.

TH: And she caught on fire …

RJ: Alright.

TH: Okay, RJ.

RJ: Okay, bye.

TH: Bye.


* * * * * * * *

Listen

Fourth conversation

1:47 a.m.

Duration: 3 min. 40 sec.

Harding calling RJ


RJ: CCF à Farnham

TH: Hey, RJ. Tom here. Listen, emergency. The town of Mégantic is on fire. Do we have tankers in the yard anywhere?

RJ: Tankers?

TH: Tankers, any kind of tankers, of any kind?

RJ: No, what’s the problem? Is it with us?

TH: Everything is on fire, from the church all the way down to the Metro, from the river all the way to the railway tracks. But what I can see, RJ – the box cars have all burned in the yard, the ties, everything, whatever is in the yard, rolling stock is now gone completely.

RJ: Is, is, is it the train that run, run down?

TH: No, I had all of the police here around me because they know I work for the railway. We got a loaded train up at Nantes, it’s okay.

RJ: Okay.

TH: Yard is gone. Flames, RJ, are 200 feet high. It’s incredible, you can’t believe it here. From the river right to the station …

RJ: What the fuck happened?

TH: I don’t know, I don’t know, but everything, everything. … I woke up 20 minutes ago, evacuate, evacuate, evacuate right away.

RJ: Okay.

TH: It’s incredible …

RJ: Okay.

TH: We got no tankers in the yard anywhere, right?

RJ: Tankers? No, I don’t think so, no.

TH: Okay. That’s what I told them and they’re telling me: yes, that’s what’s burning in the yard is, is propane and gas, and go …

RJ: Oh, okay, wait, wait, wait, wait, I’ll see if I have something.

TH: Okay. I can’t find the American, by the way, here. They evacuated everybody so fast there, they evacuated so fast I haven’t found the American guy, but everybody is out of the Auberge. I’m at the Esso gas station 24 hour there …

RJ: …

TH: … not getting any closer than that.

RJ: Tom, there’s only the, the, the oil, the tank there for the, for the machinery, so the …

TH: That’s long gone …

RJ: It’s long gone, so there’s nothing there.

TH: Okay, that means it’s got to be the natural-gas pipeline that’s been …

RJ: Okay so, so it’s not us?

TH: It’s not us, RJ, but talk to whoever you need to talk to, RJ – it’s incredible.

RJ: Okay.

TH: It’s incredible.

RJ: Alright, okay.

TH: There’s, there’s no way to get a hold of me right away. I had to borrow a phone from a citizen to be able to talk with you, okay?

RJ: Alright.

TH: The only guy that’s missing is the American, I don’t know who the American guy is, I haven’t found him anywhere.

RJ: Okay, give me a second, I’ll tell you right now.

TH: Okay.

RJ:  Samson.

TH: Samson? Okay, Mark Samson, okay. Here, I got the cop here right next to me, okay?

RJ: Okay.

TH: Just hold the line, RJ, okay?

RJ: Okay.

TH: Aucune tanker ferroviaire … [No railway tanker]

Unknown: (inaudible)

RJ: Aucun dangereux. There’s no dangerous.

TH: … comme 100 gallons de fuel pour la petite machinerie, mais à part de a …

Unknown: (inaudible)

TH: a se peux-tu que a soit la … en haut, chez Bestar?

Unknown: En haut de?

TH: En haut de Bestar, y a une compagnie Bestar en haut …

Unknown: Non …

TH: Oui, okay.

Unknown: … non, non …

TH: Ok, y a aucun wagon ferroviaire?

Unknown: Non.

TH: Y a rien, rien, rien de ferroviaire ici?

Unknown: (inaudible)

TH: Je comprends pas … propane ou natural gas, ou quelque chose?

Unknown: (inaudible)

TH: (inaudible) … RJ, am I done with you?

RJ: And no, no dangerous at all in the yard.

TH: No dangerous commodities of any kind?

RJ: No dangerous commodities of any kind.

TH: Okay, RJ, thank you. If you need to get a hold of somebody …

RJ: Yeah, I got …

TH: …you phone the police up here, okay?

RJ: Okay.

TH: Okay. Thank you, RJ.

RJ: Alright, okay, bye.

TH: Bye.


* * * * * * * *

Listen

Fifth conversation

3:29 a.m.

Duration: 5 min. 47 sec.

Harding calling RJ


RJ: CCF Farnham.

TH: Has it calmed down at your end, RJ?

RJ: No.

TH: Okay. So what are you gonna do with me … back for a couple of days, they’ve got to rebuild the tracks, hey?

RJ: Yeah.

TH: Yeah. They, couple of box cars have burned and the west end of the yard, all of this, are gone. Nasty fire. Now they’ve got a couple of pelles mechanics and dump trucks; they’re trying to, to put out the fire that’s stopping them from working, which is the natural-gas line behind the Jean Coutu.

RJ: Oh, yeah?

TH: Yeah, that’s the problem right now. They can’t, they can’t do anything anywhere until they get that put out, so they’ve got dump trucks and pelles mechanics, and the pelles mechanics were up on the tracks. It has to be all inspected tomorrow there.

RJ: Euh …

TH: They go up the embankment between the station and the bridge over the river.

RJ: Okay, but it’s worse than that, my friend.

TH: Why?

RJ: It’s your train that rolled down.

TH: No.

RJ: Yes, sir.

TH: No, RJ.

RJ: Yes, sir.

TH: Holy fuck.

RJ: Yes, sir. That’s what I got, it was confirmed at 2:30.

TH: At 2:30, now, the fuel train rolled down here?

RJ: Yeah.

TH: Ah, tabarnac de tabarnac! And it was secure, RJ, when I left.

RJ: Yeah.

TH: She was fucking secure.

RJ: That’s what, that’s what I got as a news.

TH: And when did you get the news? Few minutes ago?

RJ: At 2:25, to be correct.

TH: Oh, Jesus Christ.

RJ: Since (inaudible) … phone is, it just stopped ringing for a couple of minutes there.

TH: Just now?

RJ: Yeah. Since midnight it’s been ringing like hell.

TH: Oh, fuck. So that means … holy fuck.

RJ: Yeah.

TH: How the fuck did that thing start to roll down, RJ?

RJ: I don’t know. How many brakes did you put on?

TH: The units, the V.B., and the first car, seven brakes.

RJ: I don’t know what will happen. The best I can tell you is that Daniel Aubé is on his way there …

TH: Okay, well what’s, what you want to do with me, RJ? Don’t leave me out in the cold here.

RJ: I don’t know …

TH: I’m at a payphone here, RJ, I got no way to talk to anybody anywhere.

RJ: Um …

TH: Oh, Jesus Christ …

RJ: You got the 1-800 number here, okay.

TH: The what number?

RJ: The 866.

TH: 866?

RJ: To call me, to call me.

TH: Yeah that’s what I did …

RJ: Yeah, yeah.

TH: Oh, fuck.

RJ: Yeah, yeah, that’s the news that I got.

TH: That the fucking fuel train rolled down, it was a question of, anyways. …Were there any railway people that went up there to put the fire out?

RJ: Jean-Noël Busque.

TH: And everything was secure when he was there? Everything was fine? Everything was …

RJ: Everything was fine, yeah.

TH: And then it rolled down, what, two hours later? Three hours later?

RJ: Fire was up at midnight, and I got a call at 1:30 that there was a fire in downtown.

TH: There’s no way to talk to me, RJ, I’ve got my radio on channel 20 right now… Euh, fuck. Dan Aubé is on his way, can he come to me?

RJ: I don’t know if he’s gonna be able to. Apparently the city is cut in two. From what I heard from Jean-Noël Busque.

TH: Yes?

RJ: He finally made it to Nantes …

TH: Yes?

RJ: … to confirm me that the train was not there anymore.

TH: The police, they confirmed to me, RJ, when I talked to you at the very, very beginning – they confirmed that the train was up there, it … I don’t understand, RJ, if it rolled down.

RJ: Apparently, it rolled down.

TH: Okay, and where did it stop?

RJ: At the curve, at the crossing there?

TH: What? It derailed at the curve, that’s what happened?

RJ: Can it be? I don’t know.

TH: It’s possible, RJ, it’s possible, but it’s …

RJ: That’s what I think, but it would be the only thing that would … when it hit that fucking curve there it must have derailed. I’m not sure. That’s the only … you know what? I’m down here, hey, and I get the infos that I …

TH: Yeah … (inaudible) …

RJ: Yeah, that’s it.

TH: And I’m going by what the people are telling me here, too.

RJ: Yeah, that’s it.

TH: Because they told me it was tankers that were blowing up here at this end.

RJ: As soon as I have some news there …

TH: Call me on channel 20, I’m standing next to the phone here, I’m out in the fucking cold.

RJ: Okay, as soon as I get some news there, I’m going to give you a yell. But you cannot go back to the Auberge?

TH: No, yeah I got, I got half of my stuff is still at the Auberge, I can’t no way, no way I can go anywhere, I can’t do anything anywhere.

RJ: Okay.

TH: When you get a hold of Jean, tell Demaitre I’d like to speak with Jean.

RJ: Yeah.

TH: Okay?

RJ: Alright.

TH: Ok. Thank you. Bye.

RJ: Bye bye.


* * * * * * * *

Listen

Sixth conversation

3:53 a.m.

Duration: 1 min. 5 sec.

Harding calling RJ


RJ: … Farnham

TH: It’s me again, RJ.

RJ: Yes?

TH: Did you get a hold of Dan?

RJ: Yep.

TH: And he’s on his way?

RJ: Yeah, he’s on his way, he’s trying very hard to get to you.

TH: Okay. And did, did he have a look at anything over there? How many cars are burning?

RJ: No, he can’t see. He can’t get around there. Yeah, he can’t get around there. They won’t let him go by.

TH: Okay. There’s not much we can there, hey?

RJ: No, that’s the best I can tell you right now.

TH: That’s okay, RJ, thank you. So I’ll …

RJ: That’s it, he’s gonna try to get to you and from there I think we’re gonna try to get you home …

TH: I just saw Dan go by …

RJ: Okay.

TH: … that’s not Dan, but it’s the Highrail.

RJ: …

TH: It’s the American, I think, hey?

RJ: It must be Dan.

TH: Okay, I’m gonna go. It’s a white truck. I’m gonna go see if it’s him.

RJ: Okay, bye.


* * * * * * * *

Listen

Seventh conversation

No date, no time

[Between 11:05 p.m. and 11:45 p.m.]

Harding calling U.S. Rail Traffic Control


RTC: Dispatcher’s office.

TH: Yeah, Glen, Tom here. I’m up here at Nantes. Shut down 4 of the 5 units, got the hand brakes applied. Do you have any questions for me?

RTC: No, no. I’m all set Tom, tied down at Nantes, just get me a yell when you’re off time.

TH: Okay, Glen? The 5017, I worked pretty damn hard coming up here, … (inaudible) … I know it’s going to settle down once she cools down and stuff like that. I don’t know how good it’s going be on the eastbound, when I left Farnham, I had engine hunting [sic] on it, I got it to settle down when I started using the seventh notch only, and it pulled real nice, and this last little pull here from the bottom of the hill at 26, down at Scotstown, all the way up, to here, she worked pretty damn hard, once I got stopped here, I noticed when I got stopped here that she was smoking excessively both black for a minute or so, and then she would go white for a little bit, and then go back to black again.

RTC: Well you probably cleaned her out, Tom. This is Dave.

TH: Oh, Dave. Okay, yeah. Yes, I cleaned her out ... I’ve been here for 10 minutes, the smoke has cleared, I should say there’s less smoke coming out of it right now. It’s still changing colour back and forth, black and white, black and white, a little bit there, but, maybe if she sits here for another hour or so, she will cool right down.

RTC: Well that’s all we can do, Tom. We’ll check it in the morning and see what she says and see what she comes up with. Diagnose her then, I guess. Over.

TH: Okay, what time is the eastbound engineer ready to go tomorrow?

RTC: 7:30, over.

TH: 7:30, okay. I should be half hour behind him, them.

RTC: Okay, yep. Talk to RJ or how he wants to do it, over.

TH: Okay, Dave. I’ll check back with you a little later.

RTC: MMA Northern Maine out.

TH: Tom Harding out.



This transcript has been edited and condensed.

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