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Tom Harding and Richard Labrie Did Not Cause The Lac-Mégantic Tragedy

By admin - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January 14, 2018

Any conviction of rail workers at the end of the long danger chain is an obstacle to safety or accountability. That can only come from a full public inquiry that holds policy makers responsible.

Here’s a review of some of the critically important factors that will never be addressed by scapegoating rail workers

The Montreal Maine and Atlantic (MMA) rail management and their US based parent company Rail World Inc put communities and employees at risk across the region, and not just in the specific instance of the Lac-Mégantic wreck. These increased risks almost all still exist, without local benefits or safeguards. None of the volatile crude oil shipped contributes to the regional economy but all the risks are local.

MMA made the deliberate decision to run unit trains of the most explosive oil:

  • With a single crew member who could ONLY move the train forward. Reverse moves and splitting for any safety eventuality was prohibited by this decision.
  • In known inadequate tank cars that were mislabeled as to content.
  • too long to fit in the available derail protected siding, which are designed for the purpose of holding such trains and use of which would have guaranteed that the wreck couldn’t have happened.
  • with completely inadequate liability insurance for any risks they imposed on communities.
  • without any plan for fire and other consequences that might occur with it’s dangerous cargo.
  • without backup qualified staff to respond to eventualities such as the locomotive fire. They refused to send the only and obvious qualified person available (Harding) to check the train in order to save money. Ruthless cutting of the workforce made qualified backup unavailable.

MMA made the deliberate decision to run the locomotive that caught fire in the lead despite:

  • known defective repair that ultimately led to the fire
  • known defective performance that also increased local environmental damage
  • known defective rollaway protection in the wiring of the battery
  • requests for the simple reordering of the consist that would have absolutely prevented the wreck

MMA made the decision to purposely overload the safety weight limits on individual inadequate tank cars for the sole purpose of profit with no concern for consequences of their action. There was no meaningful oversight of this crucial aspect of safety by Transport Canada or anyone else.

Protests Coast To Coast, And Even Abroad Meet The Final Phase Of The Lac-Mégantic Trial

By admin - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January 8, 2018

The most important rail safety trial of our time will soon be in the hands of the jury. They are tasked with the difficult decision of whether or not to hold rail workers accountable for actions of their employers because it’s plain that there will be no other accountability, despite what is now a matter of public record.

The wrong people are on trial. Check out this interview with RCI, Radio Canada International. 

The stakes are high. But fortunately, many people across North America are not fooled by the Crown’s phony veneer of holding people personally accountable for the tragedy. No such real personal accountability will ever be made, since the government made it’s decision to target only the last persons in a danger chain that continues across every railroad to this moment.

On January 4th and 5th, in cities across America, people took their call for real rail safety, No More Lac-Mégantics and opposition to scapegoating workers to Canadian consulates as far away as Sao Paulo, Brazil. In several cases, they had to experience severe weather but came out anyway, knowing how important this case is. Active rail workers, Union members, working class militants, rail and other retirees protested in San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Washington DC and Minneapolis. Solidarity activists, Climate Change fighters, volatile oil opponents and environmental activists turned out their support to add their voices to the protests and delivering notice to the Canadian government that justice and rail safety cannot be served by framing up rail workers for the conditions they are forced, with government complicity, to work under. In some cities, they delivered printed statements and letters to consular officials.

Other Countries Have High-Speed Trains. We Have Deadly Accidents and Crumbling Infrastructure

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, January 4, 2018

Japan's high-speed bullet train system carries 1 million riders every day and has a remarkable safety record, at least compared to passenger trains in the United States. Passengers have taken billions of rides on Japanese bullet trains since the system was established 50 years ago, but not one passenger has died due to a derailment or collision.

In the US commuters and travelers use trains less than the Japanese, but US passenger train lines have suffered five major wrecks that killed or injured passengers over the past decade, including the recent derailment of an Amtrak passenger train that killed three people and injured more than 50 others in DuPont, Washington on December 18. Among the dead were two active members of the Rail Passengers Association, a group that pushes for greater access to passenger rail services.

A "constellation of factors" contributed to this spate of deadly train accidents, including train companies' habit of cutting corners to save money and a national failure to fund railroad and transportation infrastructure, according to Railroad Workers United, a national union representing railroad workers.

President Trump has used the DuPont crash to tout an infrastructure proposal due out later this month. However, critics say Trump's plan would leave struggling state and local government on the hook for repairing crumbling roads, bridges and railroads as Congress looks for ways to pay for the GOP tax cut package that Trump signed into law last month.

Canadian Rail Workers Harding & Labrie Are Not Guilty! Drop The Charges NOW!

By Steve Zeltser - Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, January 4, 2018

A solidarity rally was held at the San Francisco Canadian Consulate to demand that charges be dropped against MMA USW union railroad workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie for the deaths of 47 people in the Lac-Mégantic train wreck. The 47 car train was only manned by one worker and the evidence at the trial has shown that there were not proper safety measures in place. The company and the Canadian government according to speakers is now scapegoating the workers. The Canadian government liked the US government has pushed deregulation and 1 person crews being pushed by the rail owners and the speakers charged this was the real reason for this and other disasters.

There were also support actions on January 4, 2018 in Chicago, Seattle, DC and in Sao Paulo, Brazil at Canadian consulates and embassies.

The speakers also discussed the growing rail wrecks and dangerous transportation system in the United States and this was connected to similar efforts to downsize the staffing of the trains and deregulation. Speakers included trade unionists from SMART Local 1741 SF Bus Drivers, SEIU 1021 Social And Economic Justice Committee and members of Railroad Workers United RWU and Workers Solidarity Action Network WSAN. Environmental activists also attended and spoke.

Trump and the Rail Industry Had a Great First Year Together

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, December 29, 2017

The election of Donald Trump was a big win for the oil and rail industries. Shortly after the election, Edward Hamberger, CEO of the trade group the Association of American Railroads, addressed a conference in New York City, noting that “the policy landscape in Washington, D.C., dramatically shifted on Election Day.”

The trade publication Railway Age also reported Hamberger saying that “Washington leaders can be powerful change agents in fixing a broken regulatory system.”

Of course when the top rail lobbyist talks about “fixing” a broken regulatory system, what he means is moving to a system where the rail industry regulates itself — which is why the rail industry is so fond of President Trump. And why the American public should worry.

You are going to see a lot of additional relief from these horrible regulations that are killing our country,” President Trump said in October of 2017.

Together, Trump and the rail lobbyists had great success this year in stopping new safety regulations that would make oil trains safer and deadly rail accidents less likely, but the biggest triumph was probably changing the way the rail industry itself is regulated.

Campaign For Railroad Workers Facing Trial For Lac-Mégantic Wreck

By Steve Zeltser - Work Week Radio, December 26, 2017

Listen here: link

Pacifica KPFA WorkWeek Radio looks at a railroad workers defense campaign taking place in Quebec , Canada. In (2013) a major train wreck took place in Lac-Mégantic when a run away train with loaded with highly dangerous fuel smashed into the Lac-Mégantic city center killing 47 people. The company Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) and the Canadian government blamed three workers for this catastrophic wreck.

USW Locomotive engineer Tom Harding is one of three former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railroad employees along with operations manager Jean Demaître and railway traffic controller Richard Labrie who were each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the deadly derailment and explosions at Lac-Mégantic.

With growing rail and transit disasters in Washinton, New York City and throughout the country are the workers really to blame? We look at the deregulation and the attack on rail workers and health and safety conditions by railroad bosses. On January 4th there will be protests at Canadian consulates in the US and around the world to demand freedom for these railroad workers.

WorkWeek is joined with Railroad Workers United RWU and Workers Solidarity Action Network WSAN member Mark Burrows who is a retired SMART 1433 Canadian Pacific railroader and is helping to organize the defense campaign. We also interview Fritz Elder who is a veteran Locomotive engineer, and chair of the Lac-Mégantic rail workers defense committee and a special rep for Railroad Workers United RWU.

As a former rail engineer, I need to speak out

By James Goodrich, Reposted from Transport Workers Solidarity Committee - December 26, 2017

Some 25 people are dead and other 25 missing as a result of what happened last Saturday in Lac-Mégantic — and investigators and media are looking for answers as to what caused this accident. Among other things, they are looking into railway-industry operating practices.

I used to work for one of Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway’s predecessor companies, Iron Road Railways, as well as two other railroads in Colorado and New England. I have been a freight conductor, yardmaster and locomotive engineer — and I need to speak out.

In my view, what happened in Lac-Mégantic is linked to the continent-wide, 30-year erosion of rules, procedures, equipment and infrastructure in the rail industry, and a culture of corporate acquisition by non-railroad interests that has led to deferred maintenance and deep cost cutting.

The first fact to consider is that this train in Lac-Mégantic had 72 cars of oil on it — and a single crew member. That equals 46,285 barrels of oil in cars that carry approximately 102,000 litres each. By contrast, the tanker trailer you see on the highway is carrying about 34,000 litres or 214 barrels of product. Thirty years ago, most trains had five-man crews — three on the head of the train and two on the rear in the caboose. Now there are mostly two man crews on the head end, with few exceptions, one of those apparently being the MMA.

There are many hazardous materials that cannot move on the highway and thus move by rail. This train was by definition a “Hazmat” train, and yet I notice that media reports that I have seen in the U.S. have reported that there were 5- and 10-mile-per-hour track-speed limits on the rails in the area where the train was parked. Five miles per hour (or 8 kilometres per hour) is an extremely slow order speed for rail, even in areas between Nantes and Lac-Mégantic where there are major differences in elevation above sea level. Even in the Rocky Mountains, rail beds are carefully designed so that track speeds are rarely less than 15 mph. The only other reason I can think of for a speed this slow would be known problems with rail track in the Lac-Mégantic area. I have only seen order speeds of 5 mph twice — after flash floods in Colorado, and in nearly abandoned Boston yards where no rail maintenance was being done at all.

This is not just an issue for rural Canada. On the Springfield Terminal Railroad (now Pan Am), I used to pull cars of hydrocyanic acid and chlorine through the suburbs of Boston. Policy-makers should take a close look at the emergency-response guidelines for the evacuation radius of those materials. Imagine the implications for accidents in major cities.

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

http://hardingdefense.org/timeline-of-events-relating-to-charges/

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.

The Trump Admin’s Misleading Justifications for Repealing This Oil Train Safety Rule

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, December 10, 2017

On December 4, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it would repeal a critical safety regulation for modern braking systems on the same oil trains which have derailed, spilled oil, caught fire, exploded, and even killed dozens in multiple high profile accidents in recent years. 

The regulation, released by the DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in mid 2015, required that oil trains have modern electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking systems by 2021. However, in the latest iteration of its review process for this rule, the DOT is now doing an about-face.

Why would the DOT, as the regulator responsible for protecting 25 million people who live along railroad tracks carrying oil trains, reverse course on a technology hailed as “the greatest safety improvement” for modern trains? Let's take a look at corporate influence on the regulatory process.

In 2015, shortly after these regulations were announced, Matthew Rose, CEO of oil-by-rail leader BNSF, stated that the rail industry would not accept the requirement for ECP brakes, telling an audience at the annual Energy Information Administration conference that “the only thing we don’t like about [the new regulation] is the electronic braking” and “this rule will have to be changed in the future.”

Two years later, Rose appears to have been granted his wish.

Gov’t presses frame-up of rail workers in Canada

By John Steele - The Militant, December 11, 2017

SHERBROOKE, Quebec — Stephen Callaghan, a self-styled rail safety expert and the prosecution’s star witness, took the stand Nov. 21 in the Canadian government and rail bosses’ frame-up against locomotive engineer Tom Harding. Harding is charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death flowing from the July 2013 oil train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people and burned out Lac-Mégantic’s downtown core.

On trial with Harding, a member of United Steelworkers Local 1976, is train controller Richard Labrie, a fellow union member, as well as former low-level Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway operations manager Jean Demaitre. If declared guilty they could face life in prison.

Callaghan is a former inspector for the federal Transportation Safety Board. He also was a supervisor for the Quebec, North Shore and Labrador Railway, where he helped implement, for the first time in Canada, one-person “crew” operations. The only other railroad to get dispensation from the government to do so was Montreal, Maine and Atlantic.

Following the Lac-Mégantic disaster, Callaghan was hired by the Quebec provincial cops to investigate. The charges against Harding, Labrie and Demaitre were based on his report.

Accompanied by charts, graphs and photographs, Callaghan told the jury that the disaster was caused by Harding’s failure to activate a sufficient number of handbrakes before he left the train unattended.

Harding had driven the 72-car oil tanker train and parked on the main line in Nantes, as was the normal procedure on a grade above Lac-Mégantic. As he had done many times before, he set a number of hand brakes — he said he set seven that evening — and left the lead locomotive running with its independent air brakes on, confident the combination meant the train was well secured.

While Harding slept, a fire broke out in the stack of the lead engine. Volunteer firefighters turned off the locomotive to douse the flames. They left when a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic official on the scene told them that everything was in order. Harding, who was called about the fire, volunteered to come back and make sure everything was OK. He was told that was not necessary and he should go back to sleep. With the locomotive engine shut down, its air brakes bled out, and the train rolled down the hill into Lac-Mégantic, derailed and exploded.

Wakened by the explosion, Harding risked his life to help firefighters detach and move a number of tanker cars before they could explode. Many in Lac-Mégantic consider Harding a hero and are convinced that the top bosses of now defunct Montreal, Maine and Atlantic should have been charged — along with high officials of Ottawa’s agency Transport Canada, who had OK’d one-person operation and the erosion of safety on the rail line to boost company profits.

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