Charges brought in Quebec railway disaster

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 13, 2014 at 1:49 am •  Published: May 13, 2014
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TORONTO (AP) — Three employees of the insolvent railway company involved in last summer's runaway oil train disaster that killed 47 people are due to appear in court Tuesday to face criminal negligence charges in the small Quebec town that was partially incinerated by exploding tanker cars.

The charges come about 10 months after more than 60 of the tankers carrying oil from North Dakota came loose in the middle of the night, sped downhill for nearly seven miles (11 kilometers) and derailed in the town of Lac-Megantic in eastern Quebec. At least five of the tankers exploded, leveling about 30 buildings, including a popular bar that was filled with revelers last July 6.

The Quebec provincial prosecutor's office said 47 counts of criminal negligence have been filed against engineer Thomas Harding, manager of train operations Jean Demaitre, and Richard Labrie, the railway's traffic controller, as well as against the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., the defunct railway at the heart of the disaster. The charges represent one count for each person killed and are the first criminal charges brought in the disaster. Criminal negligence that causes death can result in a jail sentence of up to life imprisonment in Canada.

Rene Verret, a spokesman for the prosecutor, said the three railway employees were arrested late Monday afternoon. They are scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday in Lac-Megantic. A message left at MM&A offices was not immediately returned.

Quebec's director of criminal and penal prosecutions had begun a review of the file in late March. Prosecutors said in a statement that they elected to file the charges after an analysis of the evidence gathered at the scene. The railroad blamed the engineer for failing to set enough brakes, allowing the train to begin rolling toward the lakeside town of 6,000.

Harding had left the train unattended overnight to sleep at a local inn shortly before it barreled into Lac-Megantic, devastating the downtown bar area and forcing a third of the town's residents to flee.

The arrests came just days before the closing of the sale of the bankrupt railroad.

The $15.85 million sale of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway is expected to close on Thursday in the U.S., but there could be a delay of a few days on a parallel proceeding in Canada. Most of the proceeds will be used to repay creditors.

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