MMA railworkers had no idea where train was on night of Lac-Mégantic disaster, jury hears

The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway's track maintenance crew had to go searching for the derailed train's locomotives on the night of explosions that killed 47 people, a Sherbrooke court heard Monday. They found them a kilometre away.

MMA foreman called controller to ask where 'his train' was. 'For sure, it's in Nantes,' he was told. It wasn't

In the aftermath of the runaway train's derailment and explosions at Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013, MMA employees had to go looking for the train's locomotives. They found them a kilometre away. (Radio-Canada)

The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway's track maintenance crew had to go searching for the derailed train's locomotives on the night of explosions that killed 47 people, a Sherbrooke court heard Monday.

MMA foreman Jean-Noël Busque described how he was woken up by his boss, Daniel Aubé, and dispatched to the site of the train fire in Nantes, late on the night of July 5, 2013.

When he got there, Nantes volunteer firefighters had already put out a chimney fire in one of the locomotives on the tanker train, which had been left overnight on the track.

Busque said he then called the railway traffic controller on duty in Farnham, Richard Labrie, to relay the information given to him by the firefighters about their intervention.

Labrie told him he "could go back to sleep," Busque told the court.

'No longer a train in Nantes'

Busque told the court that sometime after 2 a.m., Aubé called him back, informing him that there was a fire in downtown Lac-Mégantic and asking him to head there to see how serious it was.

"Did you know what caused the fire?" asked Crown prosecutor Sacha Blais.

"No idea — and I didn't understand what was going on," Busque replied.

Busque said he then called Labrie in Farnham to ask the controller  if "his train" was still in Nantes.

"For sure, it's in Nantes," Busque said Labrie told him.

"I can't remember if he asked me or if I told just him, but I went back to Nantes to see if the train was there."

"There was no longer a train in Nantes."

Tom Harding donned fire suit to move cars

Busque was the 24th witness to testify at the trial, before Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas and 14 jurors.

Labrie, 59, locomotive engineer Tom Harding, 56, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53, are each charged with criminal negligence causing 47 deaths in connection with the tragedy.

Earlier Monday,  Daniel Aubé, the MMA's track maintenance director, testified he arrived at the scene of the inferno in Lac-Mégantic shortly after the derailment, in the early hours of July 6.

He said Harding was on the ground in downtown Lac-Mégantic to help firefighters move tanker-cars from the train that had derailed.

He said Lac-Mégantic firefighters asked him to don a fire suit and help move the cars still standing.

"I think there were still about 10 cars on the track, the end of the train," said Aubé.

Aubé said he asked Harding to do it.

"He had the know-how and training to move the cars," Aubé said.

Aubé told the jury that when he arrived in Lac-Mégantic, he had no idea where the locomotives were.

"I asked if the locomotives had derailed in the yard in Mégantic. [The firefighters] answered there were no locomotives in Megantic."

Aubé told the court that he and Busque left the site of the fire to go look for the locomotives. They found them at dawn, about a kilometre from the site of the derailment, he said.


 

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 6:48 PM ET

With files from Radio-Canada