Smoking MMA locomotive left idling on tracks, Lac-Mégantic trial hears

Taxi driver André Turcotte testified he raised environmental concerns with locomotive engineer Tom Harding when he arrived to pick him up from the spot where the tanker train was parked in Nantes, Que., on the eve of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

Cabbie who picked up locomotive engineer says he raised environmental concerns, but Tom Harding dismissed them

Lac-Mégantic taxi driver André Turcotte testified he was worried about the state of the locomotive when he picked up former MMA engineer Tom Harding in Nantes, where the tanker train was left parked on the eve of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013. (Marie-Hélène Rousseau/Radio-Canada)

Taxi driver André Turcotte testified clouds of black smoke were billowing from the stack of the locomotive left running on the tracks at Nantes, Que., when he arrived to pick up engineer Tom Harding on the eve of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

Turcotte is the 15th witness to testify at the trial of Harding, 56, and two other former employees of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway, operations manager Jean Demaître, 53, and railway controller Richard Labrie, 59.

They are each charged with criminal negligence causing 47 deaths in connection with the July 6, 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

Turcotte, who had been a taxi driver for four months at the time, told Justice Gaétan Dumas and the jury that he noticed oil spots covering Harding's clothing when the engineer got into his cab.

Turcotte said he questioned Harding about why he was leaving a smoking locomotive running overnight.

"I was concerned for the environment," said Turcotte.

He testified that Harding told him "one of the engines had worked hard on the way to Nantes. But the company told him to keep going."

He said Harding told him it was customary to leave the train idling overnight in Nantes when the MMA used this route.

Tom Harding, right, Jean Demaître, centre, and Richard Labrie are being tried for criminal negligence causing 47 deaths. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Turcotte testified Harding told him that perhaps he should call the U.S. side if he was worried about the environment.

"They have more pull, maybe they'll say to turn off the engine," Turcotte said Harding told him.

Turcotte said he then offered to Harding to drive the engineer back to the train if he was asked to go back during the night, however Harding never called him back.

Environmental, safety concerns

Turcotte told the court he'd been concerned for the safety of motorists, worried that oil leaking from the locomotive could spread to the nearby roadway and pool there.

"He told me the company had said to leave the engine running, and that if the oil level went too low, it would just stop the engine," testified Turcotte.

He said he shared his concerns about the environmental impacts of the smoke and oil with his cab passenger.

"Tom told me the foreman, Jean Demaitre, is related to people in the Environment (Ministry.]," he testified.

"He said, 'We're never checked — f--k all.'"

Former police officer

The court was told Turcotte had been an Sûreté du Québec officer posted at Lac-Mégantic until 2006, when he was found guilty of theft under $5,000 and breach of trust.

Turcotte was asked by the defence if the SQ officers who took his statement about his interaction with Harding on the eve of the disaster were former colleagues.

"I met former colleagues at the station, but I did not know the officers who met me to take my statement," he replied.

Turcotte's testimony came on the 19th day of the trial, which has been underway for six weeks.

He was followed in the witness box by Denis-Claude Vallée, who first noticed a fire on the locomotive fire in Nantes later on the night of July 5 and called 911, and by Sébastien Pépin, a CP rail worker who also called 911 that night after he noticed the flaming locomotive.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story reported the three defendants are charged with 47 counts each of criminal negligence causing death — one count for each person who died in the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. In fact, prior to the trial, the Crown simplified the charge to a single count each of criminal negligence causing 47 deaths. The change has no bearing on the criteria used by the jury to render its verdict or on the possible sentence.
    Jan 15, 2018 6:03 PM ET