Few safety precautions for MMA's 1-person crews, Lac-Mégantic trial hears

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic's former director of safety and training in Quebec said the railway company was one of two authorized to operate in Quebec with one-man crews, but Michael Horan said he was told the other, QNSL, did so under much stricter conditions.

'No rule covered' telling MMA controller how many handbrakes had been set on parked train, Michael Horan says

Michael Horan, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway's former director of safety and training in Quebec, told the court that MMA was one of just two railways operating in the province with one-man crews, and the other - Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway - ran under much stricter conditions. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

The former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) employee in charge of training and safety in Quebec said only two rail companies were allowed to operate trains with one-man crews at the time of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy in 2013.

Michael Horan said he'd been told by Transport Canada that the other, Quebec North Shore and Labrador Rail (QNSL), did so under much stricter conditions.

Horan stood in the witness box for a sixth day Wednesday and told Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas and the 14 jurors that the company had tried to sell the idea of the one-man crew to municipalities along its routes for several years before that plan was finally implemented to save money.

Earlier in his testimony, Horan had told the court one-man crews had been put in place shortly before the Lac-Mégantic train derailment and subsequent explosions and fires which killed 47 people.

Train engineer Thomas Harding, 56, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53, are on trial at the Sherbrooke courthouse, each charged with criminal negligence causing 47 deaths.

Under cross-examination by Guy Poupart, Labrie's lawyer, Horan told the court there were almost no changes at the railway, despite having reduced train crews from two or three employees to just one.

"Once authorization was given to MMA, were there drastic conditions that were imposed, seeing as there was a one-man crew?" Poupart asked.  

"No, the only condition was to put a mirror on the conductor's side [of the train]," Horan answered.

Horan also said he'd been told by Transport Canada that QNSL, the only other railway authorized to run one-man crews, did so under much stricter conditions.

Three former MMA employees, train conductor Thomas Harding, railway controller Richard Labrie and operations manager Jean Demaitre are charged with 47 counts each of criminal negligence causing death as a result of the July 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. (CBC)

No communication about securing trains

Horan said once the one-man crews began, the train engineer had to communicate with the railway traffic controller at an office in Farnham once he arrived at his final destination, to let him know what time the train had arrived and what time he began a mandatory rest period.

"There were no rules whatsoever asking a locomotive engineer to communicate to the railway traffic controller how many handbrakes had been applied to a parked train, or that the train had been secured?" asked Poupart.  

"That's correct. No rule covered that part," replied Horan, adding that was the case for all railway companies operating in Quebec at that time.

MMA 'drastically' tightened rules later

Horan told the court in the days after the tragedy, the rules about what information the locomotive engineer had to give the railway traffic controller were radically modified.  

"What is clear is that the practice on the field changed as of July 11, 2013?" asked Poupart.  

"Yes," said Horan.

François Daigle, a locomotive engineer who worked the same route as Harding, between Farnham and Lac Megantic in 2013, is to be the twelfth witness in the trial.  

He was sworn in late Wednesday and will continue his testimony Thursday.

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 5:47 PM ET