Skip to main content

Firefighters in Nantes, Que., inspect a row of oil tankers sitting on a railway siding on July 10, 2013. This is where the train that crashed and burned in nearby Lac-Mégantic originated.

PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The U.S.-based company whose train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Que., regularly left loaded trains unsupervised on the main line so it could use the more secure siding as a storage space for a local manufacturer's unused rail cars.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic used a railway siding in Nantes to store rail cars set aside for Tafisa, a particleboard manufacturer located in Lac-Mégantic's industrial park. The practice did not contravene any safety regulations, but it meant MM&A engineers were unable to pull onto the siding when parking trains during a crew change.

The Transportation Safety Board is still investigating what caused an MM&A train to begin rolling down the track from Nantes on July 6. The train picked up speed on a downhill slope and jumped the track after about 10 kilometres, setting off a series of fiery explosions that destroyed downtown Lac-Mégantic and killed an estimated 47 people.

Story continues below advertisement

But a growing body of evidence suggests several factors may have contributed to the crash, including MM&A's practice of leaving trains unattended on the main line instead of moving them onto the siding, a stretch of parallel track equipped with a large metal derailer that is designed to push the front of the train off the tracks and stop it from moving farther.

Transport Canada issued an "emergency directive" this week requiring railways to ensure that trains carrying hazardous goods are moved off the main tracks, among a series of other changes. The new policies were introduced days after TSB investigators in Lac-Mégantic warned federal regulators that there were no rules against the practice.

Before the crash, MM&A used two sidings to serve the Tafisa, one in Nantes and another to the east of Lac-Mégantic, located near the border with the United States. The company's CEO, Louis Brassard, told The Globe and Mail that the sidings are used as "parking lots" for cars the company isn't using.

Every week until the July 6 derailment, between 50 and 60 rail cars were slowly driven inside the sprawling Tafisa complex, located in an industrial park east of downtown Lac-Mégantic, and loaded with tonnes of particleboard and melamine. The factory's finished product was then shipped west, bound for Montreal and other North American markets.

"We load the trains seven days a week," said Mr. Brassard, explaining why the railway kept a steady supply of empty cars near the factory.

MM&A chairman Edward Burkhardt has cast blame on the train's engineer for the Lac-Mégantic accident, saying he believes the employee failed to set enough handbrakes to hold it in place once the air brakes failed. But railway experts say the siding could have provided another layer of protection – if the company had made use of it.

"If their practice had been to store it on a siding with the derail installed, this never would have happened," said Wayne Benedict, a former locomotive engineer with CP Rail and B.C. Rail.

Story continues below advertisement

"No matter how many handbrakes were or were not put on there, when the pneumatic braking system failed and the handbrakes failed to hold the equipment, it would have just plopped off the derail at the east end of Nantes and that would have been an end to it."

Mr. Burkhardt could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. But earlier this week, he told The Globe and Mail that MM&A would no longer leave any of its trains – including those carrying dangerous goods – on the main tracks without supervision.

On Wednesday, a rusted yellow derailer sat clamped on the siding in Nantes, with a large yellow warning sign planted in the gravel nearby. Farther back, nearly two-dozen boxcars remained in the same location on the siding where they have been since the crash. Mr. Brassard said the cars were scheduled to come to the Tafisa factory for loading but Quebec provincial police have not allowed them to be moved.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter