Crude by Rail & Lac-Megantic
We will be adding news & opinion articles about the tragedy at Lac-Megantic and the transport of crude by rail.
Time line of related events before and after the July 6, 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster, frame-up and scapegoating of two United Steelworkers rail workers -- locomotive engineer Tom Harding and train controller Richard Labrie
2012 – Conservative government Federal Minister of Transport Denis Lebel approves the request of the Montreal Main and Atlantic railway (MMA) to haul crude oil with a “crew” of one -- locomotive engineer Tom Harding -- as a cost-cutting measure.
July 6, 2013 –An unmanned runaway 72-car oil train carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota to the Irving oil refinery in New Brunswick, derails in downtown Lac-Mégantic and explodes killing 47 people, destroying the downtown area and dumping millions of litres of oil into the soil and the lake. Before the end of the month, without publicity Lebel is shifted out of his Minister of Transport position to another post and is replaced by Lisa Raitt, the current Minister of Transport.
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Tory budget surplus came at cost to public safety
‘Is it worth government compromising its responsibility to protect the public for the sake of a trivial and meaningless budgetary surplus?’
By: Bruce Campbell Published on Mon Sep 28 2015
The Harper government is touting its $1.9-billion surplus for 2014-15 as an indication of sound fiscal management. But to get there it made major cuts to vital public services, which in some cases compromised public safety.
Starving the rail regulatory budget is a case in point. The government cut the rail safety division budget by 20 per cent between 2010 and 2014. It froze the transportation of dangerous goods (TDG) budget at a pitifully low $14 million and dismantled its team of professional engineers with unique expertise in this field.
These cuts were undertaken as oil-by-rail shipments soared from 500 tank carloads in 2009 to 160,000 tank carloads in 2013.
At the time of the Lac-Mégantic disaster in July 2013, there were only 16 inspectors for the transportation of dangerous goods by rail in Canada – the same number there had been for the previous 10 years.
As the oil-by-rail boom unfolded, holding the line on the number of inspectors meant the ratio went from one safety inspector for every 31 tank car loads of crude oil to one inspector per 10,000 tank car loads.
How did squeezing the rail transport regulatory budget play into this tragic event?
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From the Fall 2013 issue of The Highball
The Lac Megantic Runaway Train Disaster Why Did it Happen?
In the wake of the terrible tragedy that beset the small town of Lac Megantic, Quebec on July 6th, the temptation is to look for a single factor, a single policy, or a single individual upon which to place the blame. Many in the town will be tempted to blame the notorious anti-union and lax-on-safety railroad CEO Ed Burkhart. Meanwhile Burkhart blamed the fire department and is now pointing fingers at the train’s engineer.
However, those who study the root causes of disasters like this one generally agree that they are months, if not years in the making, and are the combined result of a host of factors. And while any single factor may have been the major catalyst or trigger, a whole host of precursors more than likely led up to the disaster. These might well include the actions of Ed Burkhart as well as the engineer, but also include numerous other factors, such as single employee train operations, the advent of short lines and spinoffs, the poor safety record on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railroad, inspection exemptions for unit trains like the one involved; general maintenance and staffing issues on the MM&A, the deregulatory environment in Canada in recent years, and more.
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