Lac-Mégantic rail-safety group says too many train derailments for comfort

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic — and the company that bought it after it declared bankruptcy — have experienced a number of train derailments since the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic and Central Maine and Quebec counted 27 derailments in North America in 2013, 2014

The train derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic killed 47 people in July 2013. (CBC)

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic — and the company that bought it after it declared bankruptcy — have experienced a number of train derailments since the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

In the year following the Lac-Mégantic train derailment and explosion, the former MM&A reported 13 derailment incidents in Canada and the United States.

The following year, in 2014, the company formerly known as MM&A — now called Central Maine and Quebec (CMQ) — counted 14 incidents, according to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and its American equivalent, the Federal Railroad Association.

No one was hurt in these instances, and no dangerous products were spilled. However, André Lachapelle, a member of a citizens' committee concerned with rail safety in Lac-Mégantic, said that the quality of the tracks between Nantes and Lac-Mégantic hasn't improved.

In the early-morning hours of July 6, 2013, a train carrying 72 tanker cars of oil that had been parked overnight on the tracks derailed in Nantes and sped toward Lac-Mégantic.

It derailed right into the centre of the small Quebec town, causing several of the cars carrying fuel to explode. Forty-seven people were killed.

In November 2014 alone, CMQ reported four derailments. Wear and tear on the train tracks have caused the rails to spread.

Ian Naish, the former director of railway investigations at the TSB, said the rails have spread even further as trains have gotten heavier and heavier.

In May 2015, a CMQ train derailed in a Farham, Que., rail yard. The locomotive's hand brake was defective. A similar incident had happened just over a year before that.

Three incidents involving dangerous cargo — two in the U.S. and one in Magog — did not result in leaks.

The CMQ did not return CBC/Radio-Canada's requests for an interview. It maintains that it's committed to investing in railway improvements, and that $10 million has already been spent in that area.

Transport Canada is closely watching CMQ, and in 2014 issued seven notices to the company to have it check its lines in several locations.

Rail-safety advocates have asked to be informed about what trains are carrying through their towns. (CBC)

Not in my backyard

Vera Granikov lives near the tracks in Pointe-St-Charles.

Vera Granikov says a train carrying empty fuel tanker cars derailed in front of her Montreal home in 2011. (CBC)

She said the trains passing by didn't used to cause her home to shake, but now they do. And, she said, there seems to be more of them passing each day.

She said she had a call too close for comfort just a few years ago, before Lac-Mégantic.

"There was actually a train that derailed right in front of our house in 2011 in the middle of the night and there were oil cars that derailed and fell over. Luckily they were empty," Granikov said.

Since the Lac-Mégantic train crash two years ago, nearly three times as much oil crosses Canada by rail. And it will be a few more years before the DOT-111 train cars involved in that crash will be replaced.

Gerald Gauthier, the director of the Railway Association of Canada in Montreal, said change can only happen so fast.

It will likely be another two years before the DOT-111 tankers are replaced with thicker-hulled cars, which are less likely to be punctured in a derailment.

Granikov and thousands of residents who live along tracks across southern Quebec aren't comforted by that, though. Many Quebecers have said since Lac-Mégantic that they would prefer not having tanker trains chugging along through their neighbourhoods at all.

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