The United Steelworkers set up a fund today to help pay for the legal costs of two of the men charged in connection with last summer’s runaway train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., that killed 47 people.

'We are appealing to people's generosity to help ensure that these workers are not made scapegoats.' — Daniel Roy, director of Steelworkers' Quebec

Train engineer Thomas Harding, traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre  — as well as the now defunct Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. — each face 47 counts of criminal negligence.

The fund was set up to support Harding and Labrie. 

“We are launching this fund in solidarity with these workers to ensure they have access to a full and complete defence," said Daniel Roy, the director of Steelworkers Quebec, in a statement released Monday.

A union spokeswoman told CBC that Demaitre, the third man charged in the case, is part of MM&A management so it is not assisting him.

"This type of trial can be very expensive and destroy lives. We are appealing to people's generosity to help ensure that these workers are not made scapegoats, while those who are truly responsible for this tragedy come out of it without a scratch."

In the statement, Roy called the trial of the rail workers “a smokescreen” and pointed his finger at the federal government and MM&A Railway for the cause of last July’s tragedy.

"In the spring of 2012, when Denis Lebel was minister of transport, his department granted MM&A an extremely rare authorization to run trains operated by only one worker. Curiously, it was at this time that the company decided to start carrying oil. What investigations were done at the time? How was train safety ensured? Charging a pair of ordinary workers won't make these questions magically disappear," Roy said.

The men were arrested on May 12.

They were freed on several conditions and are due to appear in court in September.