You are here

railroad workers

Lac-Mégantic Trial Reveals More Damning Evidence

By Jordan Barab - Confined Space, October 24, 2017

The trial of three rail employees blamed for the deaths of 47 people due to a train carrying 73 cars of highly combustible crude oil that derailed in the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic continues to move forward.

At around 1:00 am on July 6, 2013, the un-manned train began to roll down a hill toward the town after the lead locomotive was shut down due to a fire caused by mechanical problems. The government is arguing that Thomas Harding (the engineer and sole crew member) didn’t set enough hand brakes on the train. Two other MMA employees, Richard Labrie, 59, and Jean Demaitre, 53, are also being tried on 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.

I have written about this tragedy here about how the workers are being blamed for what is clearly a failure of management to establish and enforce safe procedures and a safety culture at the railroad. MMA has since gone bankrupt.  My first trial update can be read here.

In the latest installment,  former MMA locomotive engineer, François Daigle, told the court that MMA had allowed to train to exceed a safe weight by almost 50% more than allowed:

Referring to a regulation manual and documents which listed the contents and weight of the 73-car train that derailed on July 6, 2013, Daigle confirmed the maximum weight allowed for an MMA train during the period from April 1, 2013 to Nov. 30 was 6300 tonnes — not counting locomotives.

The train involved in the tragedy weighed 9100 tonnes.

Daigle also confirmed that MMA did not maintain the trains adequately and they were discouraged from complaining about the poor conditions of the locomotives. The lead locomotive on the train that crashed into Lac Megantic was parked on a hill above the town due to mechanical problems. It later caught fire, causing the fire department to shut down the lead locomotive, which lead to the brake failure.

Another former MMA employee, Michael Horan, who was in charge of training and safety in Quebec, told the court that when MMA decided to allow trains to operate with one-man crews, they implemented no new safety precautions. For example, there was no new requirement that the locomotive engineer communicate to headquarters the number of hand brakes that had been applied. Horan also told the court that another railroad, Quebec North Shore and Labrador Rail (QNSL), that had instituted single crew trains did so under much stricter conditions.

Horan said that MMA did make the effort to meet municipal and emergency response officials along the route to talk about foreseeable problems and to make sure that there were procedures in place in the event of an unforeseen incident, such as a derailment. But the chance of a fire was never discussed, despite the fact that the trains were carrying crude oil.

Horan also told the court that Harding should have set 9 hand brakes, not seven, according to MMA procedures. The problem, as we reported before, is that Canadian Transportation Board report said that “testing showed that this number would not have provided sufficient retarding force to hold the train once the air pressure in the independent brake system was reduced” after the lead engine was shut down after the fire. In fact, the TSB concluded that, depending on various scenarios, the engineer would have needed to apply between 12 and 26 hand brakes in order to hold the train.

Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Was Avoidable Corporate Crime

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, Octber 24, 2017

Damning new testimony from an engineer of the locomotive involved in the deadly 2013 oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, reveals several ways corporate cost-cutting directly led to the accident, which claimed 47 lives.

We already knew for certain that a fire on the locomotive, which had been left parked and running for the night, per standard practice, was the direct cause of the disaster. That blaze resulted in the local fire department, directed by a rail company employee, to turn off the power to the locomotive. However, that action also shut off power to the air brakes, which eventually failed and caused the train to roll down the tracks into downtown Lac-Mégantic, where it exploded and leveled the area.

However, in newly released testimony reported by CBCNews, we learn about a troubling exchange between train engineer François Daigle, who had driven the oil train two days before its fiery derailment, and his supervisor:

Daigle said on that trip he noticed the locomotive kept losing speed and produced black smoke.

Daigle told the court he reported the problems to his supervisor, Jean Demaître, and sent a fax to the repair shop in Maine at the end of his shift.

Daigle said he asked Demaître to change the lead locomotive because of the repair issues.

“What was Demaître's answer?” Crown prosecutor Marie-Éve Phaneuf asked.

“You're complaining again?” Daigle said Demaître told him, continuing: “This is what we have, and at any rate, you are going to be receiving your pension after me.”

Daigle said he understood that to mean no changes would be made.

If that locomotive had been replaced, the Lac-Mégantic disaster most likely would not have happened. 

MMA Management knew about weight and equipment defect problems and didn’t care

By Alison Brunette - CBC News, October 23, 2017; (reposted at The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy)

Former MMA engineer François Daigle, who drove the locomotive that derailed two days before the 2013 rail disaster, testified that he pointed out several repair issues with the machine, but his concerns were dismissed as complaints. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

A former locomotive engineer for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) who regularly ran trains between Farnham and Lac-Mégantic, Que., said he was not allowed to refuse to operate a train, even when he knew it was over the maximum allowed weight.

Breathing quickly, his voice quivering, François Daigle testified Thursday at the trial of his former colleagues on charges related to the 2013 deadly Lac-Mégantic trail derailment and explosions.

His testimony is only being reported now because it was subject to a publication ban until Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas lifted that ban Monday morning.

Daigle’s fellow locomotive engineer, Thomas Harding, 56, as well as operations manager Jean Demaitre, 53, and controller Richard Labrie, 59, are each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

New stakes in the Lac-Mégantic frame up trial

By William C. Vantuonon - Railway Age, October 10, 2011 (reposted from The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy)

TransCanada Corp’s recent decision to abandon its $12 billion plan to build the Energy East pipeline, combined with delays to other export pipeline projects, may create a resurgence in crude by rail (CBR) from Canada, according to a report from Reuters.

“Calgary-based TransCanada said on [Oct. 5] it will abandon Energy East, which would have taken crude from Alberta to the Atlantic Coast,” the news agency reported. “The move came after Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) on Aug. 23 announced a tougher review process that would consider indirect greenhouse gas emissions.”

CBR is more expensive than pipeline for producers dealing with soft global oil prices. In the aftermath of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster, and other CBR accidents that followed, the perception remains that CBR is less safe than pipeline. However, oil industry stakeholders say regulations for major energy projects in Canada “are now so stringent it is unlikely any company will try to build a new export pipeline,” Reuters noted. “A global oil market slump has also diminished appetite for building multibillion-dollar pipelines.”

As a result, Canada’s increasing crude oil production, expected to temporarily exceed pipeline capacity through 2019, “could face a longer-term lack of pipeline capacity and subsequent lower prices if crude becomes bottlenecked in Alberta,” Reuters said. “While pipeline congestion is bad news for producers, it will prove a boon for rail terminal operators who were badly burned when oil prices and CBR volumes crashed in 2014.”

Several crude oil producers and energy industry analysts Reuters contacted said that CBR traffic will increase:

  • TORQ Transloading expects to move up to 20,000 barrels per day (BPD) of CBR in 2018, a threefold increase over 2017. “We have seen a pickup in activity and heightened interest as we move into next year. Some people are signing contracts and there’s just more spot movement,” CEO Jarrett Zielinski said.
  • U.S. Development Partners LP and Gibson Energy, operators of a Hardisty, Alberta, terminal, have signed a three-year contract with a customer to ship 30,000 BPD of Canadian crude to Oklahoma, starting in October, using up idle loading capacity.
  • Analysts are expecting a surge in CBR exports later this year as two major oil sands projects in northern Alberta add 270,000 BPD to Canada’s current 3.85 million BPD of production. Three export pipeline projects currently under development—Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain, Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 and TransCanada’s Keystone XL—have been delayed by continuing environmental opposition and legal challenges. Analysts at Tudor Pickering Holt estimate Canadian CBR volumes will rise from fewer than 200,000 BPD in early 2018 to a peak of around 550,000 BPD in 2019, when the Trans Mountain and Line 3 expansions are scheduled to begin operating. And even though CBR costs are up to two times that of pipeline, low global crude oil prices mean some producers will have little choice but to deal with higher costs if pipeline delays persist.

“If it looks like Trans Mountain could get delayed for years, people will start to reconsider their approach as the cost of rail in the current price environment means it is really hard for producers to make a return,” Morningstar analyst Sandy Fielden told Reuters, adding that some producers may shut down production.

Accountability Foreclosed, Justice Denied

By Bruce Campbell - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, October 9, 2017

The trial of the three front-line workers charged with criminal negligence causing death in the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster, has now begun in a Sherbrooke, Québec courtroom. If found guilty, they could face life in prison. The defunct company, MMA, faces the same charges but its trial will be held at a later date. What are the consequences of an extinct corporate shell being found guilty, but minus charges against its executives and owner: none.

Many people in Lac-Mégantic believe that the right people are not on trial. I agree with them. The crown’s case will exclusively target the men closest to the disaster: those at the bottom of the pyramid of accountability. But individuals at higher levels of the pyramid have escaped accountability. They have not been blamed for their role in the disaster. Who are they?

Senior executives and directors of the delinquent company MMA, especially the owner Ed Burkhardt; no significant decisions were made without his permission: not held to account.

Transport Canada senior officials and the Minister, who allowed this delinquent company to continue operating without any sanctions; allowed it to cut corners and play Russian roulette with public safety; whose highly defective oversight system failed catastrophically: not held to account.

Conservative government leaders who exhibited complacency and casual indifference to the dangers of the mammoth surge in the transportation of volatile oil by rail: not held to account.

Industry lobbyists who pressured senior officials and politicians not to implement additional regulations to deal with this new and dangerous phenomenon: not held to account.

The senior Transport Canada official(s) who made the decision [with the tacit support of superiors]—over major opposition within Transport Canada itself and the unions—to allow MMA to operate its 12,000-ton high hazard oil trains through cities and towns piloted by a single person crew: not held to account.

The industry lobby, the Railway Association of Canada [RAC], which led the controversial redrafting of the Canadian rail operating rules, with Transport Canada’s complicity, creating a loophole that allowed companies to operate single person crew trains with virtually no conditions to ensure an equivalent level of safety; and which then lobbied aggressively on behalf of this blatantly negligent company to be the first in Canada to run massive oil trains with a single person crew: not held to account.

Conservative government leaders who were responsible for a dysfunctional culture within Transport Canada, and in the name of austerity starved its resources—including reducing the rail safety directorate’s budget by 20% during the years when oil by rail was increasing exponentially— impeding its capacity to cope with this emergent reality: not held to account.

A regulation-averse prime minister responsible for instituting a notorious one-for-one rule policy requiring agencies which proposed a new regulation, to eliminate at least one existing regulation regardless of its impact on safety, on the pretext that cutting “red tape” would unleash market forces of job creation and economic growth; a policy which likely stonewalled the implementation of regulations that might have mitigated the risks of this new threat: not held to account.

Deregulation by both Conservative and Liberal governments, which systematically weakened or eliminated regulations, replacing them with voluntary codes and industry self-regulation [euphemistically called co-regulation] with limited or no direct oversight by governments.

A rail safety regime that continues to rely on human infallibility and the discredited myth of corporate self-regulation, and expecting another result is, to paraphrase Einstein, the definition of insanity. Lac-Mégantic was collateral damage of decades of deregulation. And yet only those at the bottom of the responsibility pyramid have been blamed. None of those on its upper levels have admitted their role or been held to account. Until this happens the lessons of Lac-Mégantic will not have been learned; and justice for the citizens of Lac-Mégantic will be denied.

Lac Mégantic: Blame the Worker on Steroids

By Jordan Barab - Confined Space, September 28, 2017

An unmanned, half-mile long train “bomb train” carrying tank-cars full of highly explosive crude oil barrels toward a city where it is doomed to derail on a curve, killing everyone in its wake. Luckily, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine show up to save the city at the last second. Everyone lives happily every after.

That was the plot of the 2010 film “Unstoppable.” It’s a fun film. I recommend it.

In real life, however, in the small town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, Canada on July 5, 2016, Denzel and Chris never showed up.

At around 1:00 am on July 6, 2013, an unmanned train carrying 72 tank-cars of highly combustible crude oil barreled down a hill at 65 mph, three times the normal speed, and careened off the track, disgorging six million liters of highly combustible petroleum crude. Within moments the oil exploded. The resulting inferno obliterated most of the downtown and incinerated 47 persons.

As might be expected, there were many stories to be told here, and hopefully someone is writing a book: the safety of transporting highly hazardous crude oil in fragile tank cars over thousands of miles of poorly maintained track; the impact of an out-of control fossil fuel economy on the environment, on workers in the industry and on citizens in its wake; the damage caused by a rapacious rail company focused more on cost cutting than safety; and the weakness of government oversight (even in Canada.)

But the story we’ll be telling here is one that we’ve heard many times before — the tendency of those who have responsibility for a catastrophe to shift blame onto individual workers instead of identifying the root causes and systemic problems that, if addressed, could prevent future catastrophes.  In this case we’re focusing on the arrest of the engineer and sole crew member, Tom Harding, as well as traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre. Harding, Labrie and Demaitre were were handcuffed and frog-marched to prison. All three have pleaded not-guilty to 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.  Jury selection is currently under way.

I’ve been writing this on and off for several months, since I attended a music benefit for the rail workers. As I began looking into their story, in injustice and plain stupidity of their prosecution became alarmingly evident. I could probably write a book on this one incident (and hopefully someone is already doing that), but out of consideration for my readers, I’m going to make this as short as possible. As those of you who read Confined Space have probably guessed, this is going to be an article on the stupidity of blaming workers for this tragedy when as we will see, there was a train-car load of other systemic causes that, if not addressed, will result in many more of these catastrophes.

Also note that I will frequently refer to Andrew Hopkins’ book Lessons From Longford: The Esso Gas Plant Explosion which lays out many of the principles of conducting a root cause investigation of the systemic causes of an industrial disaster.

Federal Railroad Administration Nominee Plans to Push Rail Industry to Self-Regulate

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, September 27, 2017

Ronald Batory — President Trump’s nominee to lead the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) — will be pushing for the controversial self-regulatory approach to safety known as “performance-based regulations,” according to his July 26 statement for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Shifting toward this self-regulatory approach could have major implications for the safety of trains carrying potentially dangerous cargo, including oil and ethanol.

I recognize the Federal Railroad Administration has a multitude of responsibilities, but safety will always be the priority just as it has been throughout my career. Moving to performance-based rulemaking will focus FRA’s efforts on getting the desired outcomes and safety improvements, not just on enforcement of rules and processes.”

If you have been following the rail industry, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. In May, after the first Trump-era Congressional hearing on rail industry regulation, I wrote that we should “prepare to hear a lot about performance-based regulation in the Trump era.”

In that hearing Rep. Bill Shuster got right to the point about why performance-based regulations are better for industry when he said that government should “allow the railroad industry to keep more of their profits.” It would seem, then, that profits rather than safety is the goal of performance-based regulations.

Senator Backed by Rail Companies Introduces New Bill That Would De-Regulate Rail Industry

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, July 25, 2017

A new bill by one of the rail industry’s favorite senators looks to change how the industry is regulated to allow “market forces to improve rail safety.” In June, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who happens to chair the Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee, introduced the Railroad Advancement of Innovation and Leadership with Safety (RAILS) Act.

In essence, the bill seeks to shift the rail industry toward a self-regulatory — and more difficult to enforce — approach to safety known as “performance-based regulation,” an effort first reported by DeSmog after a Congressional hearing in May.

In that hearing, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) advocated for performance-based regulations for safety, saying that government should “allow the railroad industry to keep more of their profits.” That's what you should expect when moving to a system relying on market forces to improve safety.

Speaking of market forces, it should come as no surprise that the top donor to Senator Fischer’s election campaigns is rail company Union Pacific. Or that four of her top eleven donors are rail companies, which include Berkshire Hathaway (owner of rail company BNSF), Norfolk Southern, and CSX.

That helps explain why she is pushing to allow the industry to self-regulate via performance-based regulations. Even in a pro-industry opinion piece in the publication RailwayAge, written by a former employee of rail lobbying group, the Association of American Railroads, it wasn’t possible to sell the bill without noting that it allows industry to regulate itself:

…performance-based safety standards mean rather than the [Federal Railroad Administration] prescribing particular actions, such as mileage-based brake tests and specific operations and maintenance procedures, the agency would specify a safety outcome — such as a maximum accident-type rate or component failure rate — and allow each railroad to devise its own cost-effective means of achieving that target.”

What could go wrong if you allow each railroad to devise its own cost-effective means of achieving safety? Let’s take a look at Exhibit A: Lac-Mégantic.

Stand With Lac-Mégantic Defendants

By the Ottawa-Outaouais General Membership Branch - Ottawa-Outaouais IWW, July 23, 2017

Whereas, the railroad and the government has sought to blame the employees for the natural result of the combined reckless work rules and policies that undercut safety and even basic common sense.

Whereas, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board’s 18 causes for the disaster are all company policy driven.

Whereas, the MMA (Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway) has declared bankruptcy and will face no charges for their own negligence.

Whereas, two railroad workers face criminal charges and a life sentence for a tragedy caused by unsafe railroad management policies.

Whereas, the Ottawa – Outaouais IWW stand in solidarity with all workers facing unsafe work conditions and persecution from bosses and state agents

Be it resolved that, the Ottawa – Outaouais IWW fully endorses the Railroad Workers United hardingdefense.org campaign to have all charges dropped against railroad workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie.

Solidarity with the victims. Solidarity with the workers. Hold the bosses to account!

Brain Labor Report 7.5.2017 - JP Wright

John Paul Wright interviewed by Wes Brain - Brain Labor Report, July 5, 2017

On the Brain Labor Report for July 5 we talk with labor, railroad and folk singer JP Wright.

railroadmusic.org

download here via archive.org

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.