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Background on how United Steelworkers rail workers — locomotive engineer Tom Harding and train controller Richard Labrie have been scapegoated

Reposted from Transport Workers Solidarity Committee - December 31, 2017

August 28, 2014 – Thomas Walsh, Tom Harding’s lawyer and Daniel Roy, USW District 5 director, referring to the TSB report, hold a press conference demanding that the charges against Harding and Labrie be dropped. “It`s time to stop using workers as scapegoats,” said Roy. Subsequently the Quebec prosecutor refuses to drop the charges.

Timeline of events before and after the July 6, 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster

January 2003 – The Montreal Maine & Atlantic railway (MMA) is controlled by Ed Burkhardt, President and CEO of Rail World, who cuts wages by 40%, started a series of layoffs. From 2003 to 2013, the MMA has higher accident rates than other North American railroads according to the FRA.

2010 – Burkhardt moves to begin single crew member rail operations on the MMA.

2012 – Canadian Conservative government Federal Minister of Transport Denis Lebel approves the request of the Montreal Maine & Atlantic railway (MMA) to specifically haul volatile crude oil with a “crew” of one as a cost-cutting measure.

March 27, 2013 – 14 of 94 tankers of volatile crude oil in a CP train derailed near Parkers prairie, MN. 30,000 gallons of crude is released at the derailment site.

June 11, 2013 – Frontenac, Quebec, east of Lac-Mégantic, an MMA locomotive spills 3,400 US gallons of diesel oil.

July 6, 2013 –An uncrewed runaway 74-car oil train carrying volatile crude oil from the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota to the Irving oil refinery in New Brunswick, Maine 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.

October 19, 2013 – 13 cars of a CN tanker train filled with crude oil and liquified natural gas exploded near Gainford, Alta. At least 100 homes evacuated.

November 8, 2013 – A 90-car rail train derails and explodes on a trestle in rural swamp near Aliceville Alabama.

December 2, 2013 – The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper publishes “Inside the oil-shipping free-for-all that brought disaster to Lac-Mégantic”.

December 3, 2013 – The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper publishes “The deadly secret behind the Lac-Mégantic inferno”.

December 4, 2013 – The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper publishes “Why towns are powerless to stop another disaster like Lac-Mégantic”.

December 30, 2013 – A half kilometer long crude oil train collides with a train hauling grain at Casselton, North Dakota about 17 kilometers from Fargo. The resulting explosion and fire forces the evacuation of 2,400 residents.

January 7, 2014 – A Canadian National Railway train carrying propane and crude oil derails and explodes near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Fifty homes are evacuated.

May 12, 2014 – Locomotive engineer Tom Harding, Train controller Richard Labrie, both members of local 1976 of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, and MMA company official Jean Demaître, the manager of train operations, are arrested by the Quebec provincial police – Harding by the SWAT team at gunpoint — and paraded to a temporary Lac-Mégantic court house at the sports center in handcuffs where they are charged by the Quebec prosecutor each with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death. The three could face penalties of life in prison if found guilty. “Thomas Harding is not responsible for the state of the railways,” said Daniel Roy, Quebec director of the USW. Those who are really responsible are the federal government with deregulation and ceding railways to little companies like MMA.”

May 26, 2014 – United Steelworkers union District 5 in Quebec, initiates a defense fund for Harding and Labrie to raise funds for legal costs called Justice for USW Railworkers and puts up a website: Tens of thousands dollars more are raised from USW members and other unions such as the Teamsters Rail Conference. In the United States rail workers begin to raise funds through a website:

April 30, 2014 – A 105-car crude oil train derails into the James River near the center of Lynchburg, Virginia, a town of 78,000. The derailed cars explode and oil leaks into the James River. Hundreds are evacuated.

July 8, 2014 – The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper publishes “How Bakken crude moved from North Dakota to Lac-Mégantic”.

August 19, 2014 – The Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) releases its report on the Lac-Mégantic disaster citing 18 factors that contributed to the derailment including a “weak safety culture” at the Montreal Maine and Atlantic railway and big gaps in Ottawa’s railway regulatory system. In response, Edward Burkhardt, former chairman of MMA blames Tom Harding saying: “The fact is this is a failure of one individual.” The report states that while Harding reported he had set hand brakes on seven tanker cars, and that the MMA rule book required nine for a train of that length; 17 to 26 handbrakes would have been required to hold that train on the incline without the air brakes functioning depending on how tight the brake settings were done.

August 28, 2014 – Thomas Walsh, Tom Harding’s lawyer and Daniel Roy, USW District 5 director, referring to the TSB report, hold a press conference demanding that the charges against Harding and Labrie be dropped. “It`s time to stop using workers as scapegoats,” said Roy. Subsequently the Quebec prosecutor refuses to drop the charges.

September 9, 2014 – Rail workers in the United States, who are members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport Workers (SMART-UTU) who work for the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fé Railway, vote down a proposal by the company for one person “crews” on freight trains.

October 3, 2014 – The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that Canadian Pacific Railway CEO Hunter Harrison, in comments following a speech to investors in White Plains, New York, blames Tom Harding for the Lac-Mégantic disaster saying it happened “because of one person’s behavior. An individual did not set the brakes.”

November 6, 2014 – Quebec, North Shore and Labrador Railway engineer Enrick Gagnon, the only “crew” of a 240-car iron ore train drowns when the train which requires two kilometers to stop runs into a landslide on the tracks derailing his locomotive into a nearby lake.

January 22, 2015 — The French-language Quebec-based RDI TV program Enquête. in a report called Lac-Mégantic the corrected version, explains that an initial draft of the TSB report included a 19th factor – the one person “crew”. This factor was dropped from the final published version.

February 14-15, 2015 — Canadian Pacific Railway allegedly orders rail workers to park a 57-car train carrying dangerous goods unattended on a mountain slope above the town of Revelstoke, British Columbia without applying hand brakes—in breach of emergency directives by Transport Canada issued after the Lac-Mégantic disaster. Transport Canada later opens an investigation following complaints by the Teamsters union.

February 14, 2015 – 29 cars of a 100-car Canadian National Railway train carrying Bakken crude derailed in a remote area 50 miles south of Timmins, Ontario, spilling oil and catching fire.

February 15-16, 2015 – Three thousand Canadian Pacific rail workers end one day Canada-wide strike under threat of federal strike­breaking legislation. Teamster union leaders opt for arbitration of contact demands, of which the question of safety is central. Picket signs carried by the strikers said “Fatigue kills,” referring to company violation of contract terms concerning rest periods.

February 16, 2015 – A CSX train of 107 tanks of Bakken crude oil derails and burns for days in Mount Carbon, WV. One home was destroyed and hundreds required evacuation. Oil was leaked into the Kanawha river and two water treatment facilities had to be shut down. Because there was a two person crew, they were able to decouple the locomotive and escape from the disaster without injury. The tankers in this incident were model 1232 cars which included the latest upgrades voluntarily agreed to by the carriers. The upgrades did not prevent the explosions or leaks.

March 5, 2015 – BSNF oil train derails and burns near Galena Illinois.

March 7, 2015 – A 94 car CN crude oil train derailed 35 tankers (5 of them into the Makami river) near Gogama, Ontario. The fires took days to extinguish.

March 11, 2015 — The Quebec prosecutor, in a highly unusual move, cancels a scheduled and routine preliminary hearing for those charged with criminal negligence. This deprives lawyers defending Harding and Labrie of the opportunity to learn about the prosecutor’s strategy and to call MMA and TSB officials to the stand in order to prepare their defense.

June 4, 2015 – The Toronto Globe and Mail publishes an article titled Gaps in the system: Is rail safety on the right track? The report states that since 2010 across Canada and the United States there have been 21 derailments of trains carrying crude oil since 2010 resulting in 11 fires, 6 explosions, 9 evacuations and 47 deaths.

June 22, 2015 – Under the Canadian federal Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act the federal government agencies Transport Canada and Environment Canada file new charges against Harding and Labrie as well as five former MMA company officials. The charges under the Railway Safety Act could bring a $50,000 fine and six months in prison. Those under the Fisheries Act relating to the massive amounts of crude oil leaked into the soil and water, could result in one million dollar fine. Those charged will appear in court on November 12. Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt says the investigation is continuing and more charges could be filed under the federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.

July 6-12, 2015 – To mark the second anniversary of the Lac­Mégantic disaster protest events are held in 90 communities in the US and Canada in the context of a Stop the Oil Trains Week of Action. Demonstrations involving unionists, rail workers and others are held across the US and Canada to mark the anniversary and protest the growing use of trains to haul crude oil. Demonstrators in Lac­Mégantic July 5 call on the federal government to build a railway bypass around the town. Oil trains are scheduled to resume runs through the downtown Lac-Mégantic in January 2016.

September 8, 2015 – Court hearing takes place in Lac-Mégantic to set the date for the trial or trials on the 47 counts of criminal negligence. Judge François Tôth adjourns hearing after 15 minutes and schedules another for December 1. Prosecutor begins maneuvers to move the expected jury trial to Sherbrooke from Lac-Mégantic where the Tom Harding and Richard Labrie have massive support. This will be one of the issues discussed at the December 1 court hearing.

September 8, 2015 – The city council of the town of Nantes, situated 11 kilometers on a slope above Lac-Mégantic where the runaway oil train was initially parked, adopts a unanimous resolution blaming the MMA and the federal government for the disaster and demanding that Transport Canada take emergency action to force the Central Maine and Quebec Railroad (CMQR, the reorganized MMA) to repair the track system in Lac-Mégantic and region.

September 19, 2015 – Railroad Workers United holds conference in Chicago attended by around 65 unionized rail road workers, environmentalists and others to discuss rail safety. Thomas Walsh, the lawyer for Tom Harding attends and speaks briefly to the participants. The Lac-Mégantic disaster is discussed widely at the conference. A number of conference participants decide to organize a solidarity demonstration in Chicago with a planned October 11 demonstration in Lac-Mégantic.

September 19, 2015 – On the same day of the Chicago conference a tanker train carrying ethanol derails and burns in Scotland, South Dakota.

September 21, 2015 – The Citizens and Community Groups Rail Safety Coalition in Lac-Mégantic delivers petition to city council signed by almost half the population of Lac-Mégantic demanding the council get a court injunction barring the Central, Maine and Quebec Railway from transporting hazardous goods on the tracks in Lac­Mégantic until the unsafe tracks are repaired as well as the commissioning of studies to determine the safety and weight-bearing capacity of the track system.

September 26, 2015 – The convention of the Union of Quebec Municipalities representing 300 town and city councils across Quebec unanimously endorses the town of Nantes’ resolution.

September 28, 2015 – Toronto Star daily publishes major article by the executive director of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives documenting the collusion of Transport Canada and the owners of the railways to rewrite rail safety regulations in the late 1990s, and the role of the federal government in the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

October 1, 2015 – Montreal daily, Le Devoir, publishes article on the Lac-Mégantic Citizens’ Coalition promoting their October 11 demonstration for rail safety.

October 1, 2015 – At her final meeting before retirement, Lac ­Mégantic mayor Collette Roy-Laroche and the city council cave into pressure from the owners of forest industry-related factories in Lac ­Mégantic and the region who rely on the CMQR to transport their products; and reject all the demands of the Citizens’ Coalition based on an undisclosed letter from Transport Canada to CMQR president John Giles declaring the track system through Lac-Mégantic safe.

October 2, 2015 – Montreal daily, La Presse, publishes major article on Lac-Mégantic pointing to the role of the federal government and the MMA in the tragedy and reporting on build up to the October 11 demonstration.

October 7, 2015 – Los Angeles Times publishes major article titled: “Why so many oil trains are crashing—track problems are to blame” outlining systemic safety problems throughout North America in relation to the longer and longer oil train convoys.

October 7, 2015 – Railroad Workers United leadership adopts a resolution placing the frame-up of Tom Harding and Richard Labrie in the context of the profit drive of the rail bosses, the deteriorating and unsafe conditions of rail road workers and calling for the dropping of the charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie.

October 11, 2015 – About 1,000 people from Lac-Mégantic and other railway communities in Quebec respond to the call of the Citizens’ Coalition to march for rail safety. Among the featured speakers at the rally following the action is Thomas Walsh, Tom Harding’s lawyer who introduces retired Amtrak locomotive engineer Fritz Edler from Washington DC to the crowd. Edler is a retired rail union leader and member of Railroad Workers United. At an all-candidates federal election meeting on the issues posed by the Lac-Mégantic disaster following the demonstration, Ottawa’s responsibility in the disaster and the frame-up of Harding and Labrie are raised from the floor by participants angry at the parties represented by the candidates who spoke to the meeting from the five major federal parties.

October 12, 2015 – In Chicago, about 20 demonstrators, including rail workers and environmentalists from a range of organizations deliver a letter to the Canadian Consulate demanding action on rail safety by Ottawa, and calling for the dropping of the charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie, as well as former MMA official Jean Demaître,

October 29, 2015 – Five cars of a 26 car empty Canadian Pacific freight train derail on track running through an east end Montreal residential neighborhood. One rail car hits a house causing damage. Mayor Denis Codere calls on the government to force rail companies to reveal to the city the contents of any hazardous cargo it intends to transport through Montreal.

November 7, 2015 — A BNSF Railway freight train derails 25 cars near Alma in western Wisconsin, spilling 20 thousand gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River. According to McClatchy New Service, this was the 10th North American derailment of volatile crude oil or ethanol in 2015.

November 8, 2015 –An eastbound Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying crude oil derails in Wisconsin in Watertown. The railroad said at least 10 cars were off the tracks, and some were leaking.

November 12, 2015 – A court hearing takes place in Lac-Mégantic on the additional charges laid in June 2015 by Transport Canada under the federal Rail Safety Act and by Environment Canada under the federal Fisheries Act against Harding and Labrie and five former MMA company Officials. Harding and Labrie plead not guilty. Transport Canada accuses Harding and Labrie of not setting a sufficient number of hand brakes and testing them properly. The next hearing on these charges is set for January 28, 2016.

November 13-15, 2015 – The Crude Awakening Network, the first continent-wide center for information and action specifically around volatile shipments of oil by rail is formed in Pittsburgh, PA. It is the result of a 3 day gathering of oil train activists across North America. Marilaine Savard, of Lac-Mégantic, is keynote speaker.

November 27, 2015 — The Quebec government files a lawsuit for $409 million in Quebec Superior Court in damages, charging the Canadian Pacific Railway failed to take the necessary steps to prevent possible damage from the crude oil carried in the cars in case of derailment. It also accuses CP of negligence which aggravated the scale of the tragedy handing off the train to the MMA which had a poor safety record. CP transported the oil from North Dakota to Quebec. CP denies any responsibility for the disaster.

December 1, 2015 – Court hearing in Lac-Mégantic on the criminal negligence charges attended by Tom Harding, his lawyer Thomas Walsh; legal representative of Richard Labrie; lawyer for Jean Demaître and Demaître. Several activists with the Citizens and Groups Coalition for Rail Safety attend to express solidarity with Harding. Demaître’s lawyer says trial should be moved out of Lac­Mégantic because everyone knows someone affected by the disaster. Walsh says Harding wants trial in Lac-Mégantic so he can be judged by the people of Lac-Mégantic. Judge refers the case to an April 4, 2016 hearing so that Demaître’s new lawyer can study the documents and sets March 1, 2016 as the deadline for all sides to submit motions to be discussed at the April 4 hearing.

December 14, 2015 – The Quebec Crown Prosecutor (DPCP), the body that laid criminal charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie announces that no criminal charges will be laid in connection with a 2014 fire in a seniors` residence at L’Isle-Verte, that killed 32 people. A coroner’s report cited a lack of training and emergency plans as factors in the tragedy. The DPCP stated that “In light of the expert and witness testimony that was heard and the evidence gathered by investigators, the DPCP (the Crown) is not able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a criminal act was ever committed…”

December 22, 2015 – Officials responsible for bankruptcy proceedings in relation to the MMA announce that victims’ families in Lac­Mégantic will start to receive money early in 2016 from the $114 million fund for wrongful death claims. The compensation fund for all claims is $460 million.

January 6, 2016 – The January 6, 2016 Globe and Mail reports that the Houston-based USD group has filed a request with the Canadian Environmental Assessment agency to double the size of its rail-by-oil facility in Hardisty, Alberta near where the Keystone XL oil pipeline was to have begun before being cancelled by US president Obama. The facility would eventually fill 480 train cars daily, with 280,000 barrels of crude oil.

January 7, 2016 – The January 7, 2916 Globe and Mail reports that in December 2015 a Federal Court of Appeal ruling limited the liability of the Canadian Pacific Railway in lawsuits triggered by the transportation of dangerous goods like toxic inhalants. The ruling stipulates that CP is justified in asking shippers to indemnify the company if a derailment occurs after CP hands off the train to another railroad to haul the toxic goods to its final destination, as it did in the Lac-Mégantic disaster when it handed of the train to the MMA. The ruling could be applied to the transport of crude oil. CP officials have always maintained the company had no responsibility for the Lac­Megantic disaster.

January 18, 2016 – The Canadian Broadcasting Company reports that Transport Canada in an unprecedented move has ordered Canadian Pacific to change its freight-train line ups and fatigue management practices in British Columbia because “they pose an immediate threat to safe railway operations.” The use of longer trains with greater volumes of cargo, unpredictable schedules, the elimination of taxis and vans to shuttle redeployment crews, forces workers to spend longer hours away from away-from-home terminals. The CBC report says the problem exists across the country with layover times reaching 20+ hours.

January 19, 2016 – A meeting of the Vancouver General Hospital local of the Health Employees Union, attended by 35 workers votes for a resolution supporting Tom Harding and Richard Labrie, stating: “Be it resolved that the VGH local of the HEU send a message of solidarity to Tom Harding and Richard Labrie supporting their fight against frame up charges for the Lac-Mégantic train disaster; and be it further resolved that this local send $350 to the Quebec Steelworkers fund for the defence of Tom Hardy and Richard Labrie.”

January 26, 2016 – Two days before a January 28 hearing in Lac­Megantic on the charges levied by the federal government through Transport Canada and Environment Canada against Tom Harding, Richard Labrie and five of former MMA officials for violating the Railway Safety Act and Fisheries Act, the judge cancels the hearing and reschedules it for May 3 in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

January 26, 2016 – Relatives of the 47 people killed in the July 2013 disaster begin to receive financial compensation from the $111 million allocated to them from the $450 million total compensation settlement. Contractor Christian Lafontaine who lost his brother and two sisters-in-law but survived the explosion with his wife at the Musi-Café where most died, is shocked to receive only $25,000 ($17,000 after lawyers’ fees) and goes public in the press because he thinks others are in the same situation.

January 28-29, 2016 – Union members and staffers from dozens of trade unions across North America gather at the Tommy Douglas Center, International Headquarters of the Amalgamated Transit Union for Labor Convergence on Climate, organized by the Labor Network for Sustainability. The working conference committed to using union resources to further action around climate change.

January 30, 2016 – While attending the official opening of the Lac­Mégantic Reconstruction office in Lac-Mégantic, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau reports that he has spoken to John Giles, president of the Central, Maine and Quebec Railway, who says that there will be no crude oil transported by train through Lac-Mégantic in 2016. Garneau also said that a feasibility study was being done on a railway bypass around Lac-Mégantic.

January 31, 2016 — Two pressurized tanker cars loaded with propane collide at a Canadian Pacific Rail yard northeast of Edmonton, marking the third such accident at the Scotford Yard involving a remote-controlled train in less than two months. In early December, four cars at the yard being moved by remote control derailed, spilling almost 100,000 litres of toxic styrene at the site. Then on Dec. 26, three cars of plastic pellets also being moved by a crew on the ground operating a Beltpack derailed but remained upright. CP is in arbitration with the Teamsters union over expansion plans for the use of RCLS (Remote Control Locomotive System) trains in urban areas across the country. In a Jan. 5 radio interview Teamsters Rail Conference Canada president reported that a Beltpack operator failed to stop a 12,000-ton Canadian National train in Saskatoon and called CP’s drive for unlimited use of radio-controlled trains “grossly irresponsible.”

February 2, 2016 – CJAD 800 news reports that the Teamsters union is investigating a CJAD news story that trains are being put into service without safety inspections to save time. The union reports that in Montreal 10 of 50 diesel mechanics have lost their jobs, in the context of projected cuts by CP of 1,000 jobs and says that safety is being compromised because the fatigue of those forced to work over­time is more and more becoming a danger. The 30 day general maintenance inspections have been cut, reports Montreal union president Nelson Gagné.

February 3, 2016 – The winter issue of Highball, the publication of Rail Workers United (RWU) a cross-craft inter-union caucus of rail labor activists across North America, contains a front page commentary article titled “If you care about railroad safety you must defend Tom Harding” which explains why Tom Harding is not criminally responsible for the disaster, and a special report on the fight for rail safety in Lac-Mégantic by RWU member Fritz Edler who participated on behalf of the RWU, in the October 11, 2015 Lac­Mégantic demonstration of 1,000 for rail safety. Fritz says “The defense of Tom Harding is probably the most important question facing militant railroad workers today.”

February 4, 2016 – A study by Quebec health authorities concludes that 67 percent of the population of 6,000 at Lac-Mégantic suffer from “moderate to severe” Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and that the levels may still be rising. “We noted no improvement and even a deterioration of the global health of the population of Lac-Mégantic,” says Mélissa Généreux, director of public health for the region. Mayor Jean-Guy Cloutier says a railway bypass is “essential” for the recovery of the population.

February 11, 2016 – Marilaine Savard, a witness to the destruction in Lac-Mégantic briefs lawmakers and aides in Annapolis along with leaders of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland House of Delegates Clarence Lam (D-12) and Fritz Edler of Railroad Workers United. Del. Lam is introducing legislation to restrict operation of unsafe freight trains in the State.

Maryland House of Delegates Committee on Environment and Transportation and Senate Committee on Finance receive First Reading testimony in support of Maryland SB 275/HB 92 penalizing single member crew operation of freight trains in the State. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Legislative Rep. H. Harris Jr and MD Smart-UTU (United Transportation Union) Legislative Director Larry Kasekamp, as well as crew members and First Responders testify in support of the legislation.

“From Lac-Mégantic to Baltimore: an Oil Train Town Hall” draws upwards of 70 people in downtown Baltimore, MD to hear Marilaine Savard from Lac-Mégantic describe the night of the disaster in her home town. Other speakers included Mike Tidwell and Jon Kenney of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Railroad Workers United. Recent Court disclosures won by CCAN reveal the extent of crude oil by rail that comes into Baltimore, a fact that has been hidden by the railroads. A Representative of the Baltimore City Council President’s Office underscored the urgency of the need for studying the impacts of those shipments.The Baltimore City Council is considering an ordinance requiring studying of the health and safety impact of these shipments. Fritz Edler, of Railroad Workers United spoke to the need to defeat charges against Harding and Labrie and called for support of Maryland legislation that would prohibit single crew member operation of freight trains in Maryland.

March 1, 2016 – Sixteen rail cars on a 34-car Norfolk Southern freight train derail near Ripley NY. Two rail cars carrying ethanol ruptured and leaked. At one point, the flammable liquid was gushing at a gallon per minute. Another car was carrying propane, but did not leak. Officials said they lost 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of product. 45 homes, about 100 residents, in the immediate area were evacuated. Many spent the night at a nearby church. Emergency leaders said they used a new foam trailer that the state sent to the county just a few weeks ago. Eighteen foam trailers had been distributed to areas across New York state, primarily along the railways in the state’s effort to control crude oil accidents.

March 6, 2016 – The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper begins a 4 day series of explosive revelations about the policies of the Montreal Maine & Atlantic RR. The paper first reveals clearly for the first time, that the MMA, as a matter of policy, ordered all it’s crews NOT to use automatic air brakes in securing trains left unattended. This basically unprecedented policy driven added risk explains the quickness with which the train rolled after its lead engine was shut down. This revelation shakes the railroad world by its brazen disregard for basic railroading practices.

March 7, 2016 – The Toronto Globe and Mail continues it’s series on the crisis in Canadian railroading by reporting on the budget cuts at Transport Canada (the Canadian government rail regulatory arm, similar to the US FRA).

March 8, 2016 – The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian Treasury Board will oversee Transport Canada’s budget decisions, further indication of the agency’s failure.

March 9, 2016 – In the wake of the revelations about the failure of the MMA to require basic best practices for securing unattended trains, and Transport Canada’s failure to require such practices, the Globe and Mail reports that the head of the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) calls for new federal safety requirements.

March 14, 2016 – The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) publishes a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register. The newly proposed rule would establish minimum requirements for the size of train crew staffs depending on the type of operation, with a minimum of two for most operations. The NPRM notes the disaster in Lac-Mégantic and the fact that Harding was forced to work the train by himself.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR), the industry group, immediately replies with a public relations pushback denying the fundamentally risky nature of single crew member operations.

March 16, 2016 – The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) determines that poor track conditions and delays in maintenance activities led to the derailment of a Canadian National (CN) train near Fort Frances, Ontario. There were no injuries, and 500 feet of track was destroyed.

March 17, 2016- Thomas Walsh, lawyer for Tom Harding, files a motion before the Court either for a “stay of proceedings” (i.e. throw the case out of court) or to “quash” the preferred indictment and to order a preliminary hearing on the grounds of “abuse of process” by the Crown Prosecutor.

March 30, 2016 – A federal Transportation Safety Board report on the November 2014 derailment of a 240-car Quebec, North Shore and Labrador railway ore train that killed engineer and sole crew member Erick Gagnon after he hit a landslide derailing the two lead locomotives into the Moisie River, concluded that the QNS&L bosses did not regularly inspect the rock face along the route of the train.

April 4, 2016 – A scheduled court hearing in Lac-Mégantic for USW members Tom, Harding, Richard Labrie, and former MMA operations manager Jean Demaître is postponed to June 7 in Lac-Mégantic because Labrie is in the process of arranging for a new lawyer provided by the community organization Jurypop.

April 5, 2016-Thomas Walsh files a motion before the Court asking the Judge to order the Crown Prosecutor to release information crucial for the defense of Harding and to explain the “strategy or basis” for the criminal negligence charges-information need to back the motion for either a “stay of proceedings” or to “quash” the preferred indictment.

April 7, 2016 – L’Écho de Frontenac, the Lac-Mégantic weekly paper publishes information n the Globe and Mail revelations about the MMA policy against the use of air brakes, the first such article in French since the March 6 article by the Globe and Mail.

April 7, 2016 – Thomas Walsh, lawyer for Tom Harding and Fritz Edler a member of Rail Workers United, address a meeting a 20 students at the University of Quebec at Montreal on the frame-up of Harding and Labrie and the Globe and Mail revelations.

April 26, 2016 – Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau holds a Town Hall meeting in Lac-Mégantic in the context of Railway Safety Week. He speaks in generalities, says he is working on rail safety, and says an initial report on a feasibility study for a railway bypass at Lac-Mégantic will be released in mid-May. Garneau rejects demands of Citizens’ Coalition for Rail Safety for an independent commission of inquiry into the causes of the Lac-Mégantic disaster and to make July 6 an official rail safety day in memory of those who lost their lives on July 6, 2013. John Giles, president of the Central, Maine and Quebec Railway speaking at the meeting says the CMQR’s tracks and infrastructure meet Transport Canada standards and in a thinly veiled reference to Tom Harding says the Lac-Mégantic disaster was caused by “human error” and not faulty railway infrastructure.

April 27, 2016 – A court hearing Scheduled for May 3 in Sherbrooke, Quebec on the charges laid by Transport Canada under the federal Railway Safety Act and federal Environment Act against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie and a number of former MMA officials is postponed to October 5, 2016.

May 1, 2016 – A 175 car CSX freight train derails 14 cars, including dangerous flammable and caustic chemicals in Northeast Washington DC. While no one was injured, the derailed cars came within feet of destroying major infrastructure. Clean up including hazardous chemicals continues and the CSX Metropolitan Branch is impassable in the meantime, crippling commuter and freight traffic.

May 2, 2016 – A Globe and Mail article reports that the Liberal government quietly spent $75 million dollars into a compensation fund for victims and creditors of the disaster in order to protect the government from lawsuits connected to the disaster – a deal which was under negotiation with the previous Conservative government. In response Marc Garneau tells the Globe that neither the current nor previous government have “any legal responsibility” for the disaster.

May 3, 2016 – Court hearing in Sherbrooke on federal charges under Environment Act and Railway Safety Act is postponed till October 5, 2016 to clear way for the proceedings on the criminal negligence charges.

May 6, 2016 – La Tribune the daily Sherbrooke Quebec paper publishes a column by Denis Dufresne calling for a public inquiry into the causes of the Lac-Mégantic disaster in response to the news that Ottawa has protected itself against suits as a result of what happened. The article states that the only victims to this point are the people of Lac-Mégantic and the three accuse of criminal negligence and that the people of Lac-Mégantic have the right to know about the role and responsibility of the federal government, Transport Canada, and the MMA.

May 10, 2016 – The consulting company AECOM presents the results of a study to the people of Lac-Mégantic that says it will cost $112 million to build a railway bypass of almost 12 kilometers.

May 29, 2016 – The Globe and Mail publishes an article by Grant Robertson reporting that the Transportation Safety Board has criticized Transport Canada for only fully implementing one of five safety recommendations in the report of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) on the Lac-Mégantic disaster in the three years since the event. The TSB points out that in 2015 there were 42 incident of runaway trains and equipment in Canada compared to 30 the year before and a five year average of 36. A Globe editorial the following date calls the situation “beyond shameful.”

June 2, 2016 – Crown prosecutor files motion before the court to “quash”, that is dismiss the two motions put forward by Walsh without regard to the issues raised by Walsh in his motions.

June 3, 2016 — A multi-car oil train derails and burns 110 miles from Portland Oregon forcing the evacuation of homes and businesses in the area. Since 2008 there have been ten major oil train derailments in Canada in the US.

June 7, 2016 – A Lac-Mégantic court hearing for pre-trial motions on the criminal negligence charges is cancelled and rescheduled for June 20 to hear a motion by Thomas Walsh for a ruling to force the prosecution to disclose information crucial for the defense and the basis for the criminal negligence charges information crucial for Walsh’s second motion for a “stay of proceedings” – that is to throw the case of court, on the basis of “abuse of process” by the Crown Prosecutor. The prosecutor asks the court to “quash” – dismiss both motions.

June 13, 2016-13 of 124 cars of a CSX freight train, one containing acetone, derailed in the Howard Street tunnel, beneath the city of Baltimore MD, site of a 2001 fire that burned for a week and another derailment in 2005.

June 17, 2016 – Railroad Workers United initiatives an on line Harding and Labrie Defense Committee at with a petition calling on Canadian Minister of Justice Jody Wilsion-Raybould to use her office to drop the criminal charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie.

June 20, 2016 – Justice Gaetan Dumas of the Quebec Superior Court opens hearing in Lac-Mégantic on two pre-trial motions, from Tom Harding’s lawyer Thomas Walsh. One requesting information from the Crown Prosecutor needed by the defense including the “Theory of the Case” – that is, the basis of the 47 charges of criminal negligence which the prosecutor has continually refused to divulge and another asking for the case to be dismissed because of abusive and illegal actions of the Crown Prosecutor or the ordering of a preliminary hearing. The prosecution argues for dismissal of both motions

June 21, 2016 – The Lac-Mégantic city council decides to drop its suit against Canadian Pacific Railway because it is too costly with no guarantee of success.

June 21, 2016 – At a Longueuil palais de justice, juge Maurice Galarneau rules that charges against Thomas Walsh, Harding`s lawyer laid in May 2015, will go to trial. Walsh is alleged to have uttered a death threat against a policeman in court during a hearing on a drug case in which Walsh was acting for the defense.

June 22, 2016 – The hearing continues in Sherbrooke. In a surprise move, Justice Dumas makes his decision before the end of the hearing dismissing the motions by Walsh. Dumas does this after he has pressured the Crown Prosecutor to release the “Theory of the Case.” In the document Harding is alleged to have carried out five acts that the prosecutor says are criminally negligent. During the course of the hearing the judge says he expects a trial sometime in 2017. A hearing will be held in mid-September 2016 on pre-trial motions including those dealing with the location of the trial.

June 23, 2016 – In a trip to Lac-Mégantic for Quebec’s national holiday, Rona Ambrose the interim leader of the federal Conservative party announces her support for the building of a rail bypass around downtown Lac-Mégantic.

June 23, 2016 – The Quebec government announces that it has allocated $250,000 in supplementary aid to the citizens of Lac-Mégantic to hire a social worker, a community worker, and a psychologist to help those with post-traumatic syndrome which affects two thirds of the people of Lac-Mégantic.

June 2016 – The June meeting of the Vancouver General Hospital Employees Union adopts a resolution calling for the dropping of the charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie and submits the resolution for adoption at the upcoming November 28-December 2, 2016 convention of the BC Federation of Labor.

July 6, 2016 – Lac-Mégantic: On the third anniversary of the disaster, the Citizens’ Coalition and Groups for Rail Safety holds a press conference in the village of Nantes where the train was initially parked before rolling into Lac­Mégantic to demand immediate government action on building a railway bypass around Lac-Mégantic. Prime Minister Trudeau the same day makes a statement on rail safety without mentioning the question of the by-pass.

July 10, 2016 – About 300 people from Lac-Mégantic and around Quebec turn out to a rally and march in Lac-Mégantic organized by the Citizens and Groups Coalition for Rail Safety to demand that the federal government of Justin Trudeau take immediate steps to announce and build a railway bypass around the town and that Transport Canada take measure to force the Central, Maine and Quebec Railway to upgrade the safety of its track system in and around Lac-Mégantic. Speaking to the rally Fritz Edler, activist with Rail Workers United and retired locomotive engineer calls for the dropping of the charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie.

July 16, 2016 – Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, tweets RWU Harding-Labrie petition calling for dropping the criminal charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie.

July 20, 2016 – The railway division of Unifor local 4,000 based in Edmonton, with 4,500 members across the country including Via Rail puts the RWU petition on its website urging members to sign it. (

July 25, 2016 – Minister of Transport Marc Garneau announces retirement of Dot 111 tanker cars by November 1, 2016 moving up the planned date from 2017. The puncture-prone cars were the ones that exploded during the the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

August 12, 2016 – Locals 258 and 689 of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (locomotive engineers in Montreal) post the Rail Workers United petition on their website urging members to call for the dropping of the charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie.(

August 21, 2016 – Two Canadian Pacific freight trains side-swipe each other in central Toronto puncturing he fuel tank of the lead locomotive. The train was carrying dangerous goods. There were no injuries or damage beyond the locomotives.

September 13, 2016 – At the end of a pre-trial court hearing in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas sets a date of September 11, 2017 for the beginning of the trial for Tom Harding, Richard Labrie, former MMA official Jean Demaître and the bankrupt MMA on the 47 counts each of criminal negligence. The trial is projected to last three months. Another pre-trial hearing in Sherbrooke is scheduled for November 29 for further pre-trial motions from the defense and prosecution. At that time Harding’s attorney who will push to have the trial in Lac-Mégantic, plans to move a separate English-language trial for Harding who is the main target in the frame-up. During the hearing Judge Dumas queries the prosecution on why the MMA is still being charged since it can’t pay any fines or be jailed

September 13, 2016 – In attendance at the court hearing is Robert Bellefleur, as spokesperson for the Lac-Mégantic Citizens and Groups Coalition for Rail Safety that is fighting for federal action on its demand for a railway bypass around the town. At the hearing a Rail Workers United-initiated online petition calling for the dropping of the charges against Harding and Labrie with 2250 signatures is handed over to the office of the Quebec prosecutor. The petition is supported by several Teamster Canada Rail Conference union locals in Ontario and Quebec and Unifor 4000 which organizes passenger rail workers.

September 22, 2016 – A Globe and Mail article reports that the National Energy Board has told a standing Senate committee that if no new oil pipelines are built that oil-by-rail shipments across Canada will increase by ten times over the next 25 years. By 2040 daily oil production is expected to rise to 6.1 million barrels and 1.2 million of that will be moved by rail.

September 29, 2016 – A New Jersey Transit commuter train failed to stop and crashed through a wall into the waiting room at a busy Hoboken station at 8:45 a.m. killing one person and injuring over 100. The train was not equipped with Positive Train Control technology which would have likely stopped the train. The National Transportation Safety Board has been calling for this kind of technology for 40 years. Congress has passed legislation demanding companies install PSC technology but at the request of railway companies the deadline for installing this has been pushed back to 2018.

See Also:

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