Now face-to-face with the devastation caused by a runaway oil train, locals in Lac-Mégantic expressed anger as they learned that the railway at the centre of their ordeal filed for creditor protection. The request came one month and one day after the disaster.
“It’s horrible, I hate them,” a fatigued Karine Blanchette said Wednesday about the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. A waitress at the destroyed Musi-Café bar, she lost a dozen friends and colleagues in the derailment.
“We were waiting for this. I don’t know what to say, they are mocking the town, they are mocking the disaster, they are mocking the victims.”
The Quebec provincial police say 47 people were killed as burning oil rushed through the downtown just after 1 a.m. on July 6, causing massive fires and explosions.
Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche would not comment on the company’s filing, saying only that the town puts its faith in the judicial process. The mayor has refused to publicly speak about the MM&A since the incident.
The municipality has sent two legal notices to the beleaguered railway asking for it to pay $8-million in cleanup expenses. Neither legal notice has been answered. In court filings, the railway revealed that it had only $274,000 in its bank accounts.
The filing didn’t come as a surprise to the town’s business leaders. According to Béland Audet, the head of local transportation giant Logi-Bel, factories in Lac-Mégantic’s industrial park began planning three weeks ago for a future without the Maine-based railway.
“We would prefer that a new company operates the track,” Mr. Audet said. “It just wasn’t a good sales pitch for people to keep seeing the MM&A logo going through town.”
The town will continue work to restore rail service to local manufacturers who depend on the MM&A to ship wood products across North America. The railway will also continue providing service as it works its way through the court system.
Getting the railway operating again is the least of the mammoth tasks that now awaits Lac-Mégantic. On a fence circling downtown, the black shroud that once kept prying eyes from seeing the vast wreck is now in tatters, shredded by the elements and rushed work crews.
When some residents were allowed to return to their homes last week, they found their streets melted in half by burning oil. Their front windows now face a completely devastated downtown, with blocks of blackened rubble and twisted steel.
Work crews are already being moved into winterized trailers, preparing for an environmental cleanup expected to last years. In the face of mounting costs and oil that is still seeping deeper into the ground, locals have been warned the village’s downtown may never be rebuilt.