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Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

The Lac-Mégantic rail disaster was the derailment of an unattended 73-car freight train carrying crude oil on 6 July 2013. It rolled down a slope from Nantes, Quebec, gathering speed until it came off the tracks at the town of Lac-Mégantic and the crude oil ignited. Most of Lac-Mégantic’s downtown was either destroyed in the explosion or subsequent blaze or had to be demolished afterwards, and 47 people died.

There were a number of contributing factors to the disaster:

  • The American company (MMA Railway) which owned both the locomotive and the railway was uninterested in spending money to maintain either. Wear to the locomotive had been temporarily patched over with epoxy that was already failing again at the time of the crash; the line had a speed limit of 16km/hr due to its incredibly poor condition.
  • The train was parked on the main line at Nantes, not on the siding, because the siding was being used to store cardboard or something for a company called Tafisa.
  • MMA’s standard procedure for parking a train was to leave one of its five engines running to maintain wheel pressure, and to simply activate a number of brakes and walk away (not even locking it). The train engineer, Thomas Harding, activated nine brakes on the 73-car train; for the gradient of the slope it was parked on, around 17 was recommended. They also had engineers working solo, not in pairs.

Three railway employees, including Harding, were criminally tried over their role in the disaster. A jury in Sherbrooke, QC, acquitted them.