Lac-Mégantic rail traffic resumes with stricter guidelines

A train rolled through the town of Lac-Mégantic, Que., today for the first time since July, when an unmanned train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people.

Train runs through town for 1st time since 47 people were killed in July derailment

The first freight train to carry cargo out of Lac-Mégantic, Que., since July moved downtown and then backed up again on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

A train rolled through the town of Lac-Mégantic, Que., for the first time since July, when an unmanned train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people.

A locomotive passed through town around 2:30 p.m. ET towing six freight cars carrying prefabricated particle board panels from Tafisa, a company located in the nearby industrial park.

Earlier Wednesday morning, the locomotive went through Lac-Mégantic's downtown on its way to pick up the load.

There's no choice ... there's no other tracks and the train must pass through- Raymond Lafontaine, Lac-Mégantic resident

Adding to the mix of emotions felt by many in the small community is the fact that the train is owned by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A) — the same company behind the train at the centre of the disaster.

For some residents hearing the whistles again triggered a lot of emotions.

Raymond Lafontaine lost four people in the tragedy — his son, his daughter, his stepdaughter, and his secretary.

He said that while he understands the trains have to return, he wishes that the MM&A was out of the picture.

"There's no choice ... there's no other tracks, and the train must pass through, but I deplore the fact that it has to be from the same company," he said.

Local economy depends on railway

Tafisa is one of the biggest employers in Lac-Mégantic, where the local economy depends on the rail system.

Mayor Colette Roy Laroche said the time had come for the trains to return.

"For businesses in the region and workers, it's news that has been awaited for several months," she said. 

But Roy Laroche said she sympathizes with those who are still in mourning.

"I also understand what it's like for citizens to hear and see the first trains pass through," she said. 

No hazardous materials allowed

Roy Laroche made the announcement on Monday that rail traffic would resume this week.

The announcement came after the town of Lac-Mégantic, Transport Canada and trustees with the MM&A reached an agreement outlining new standards for rail travel.

The agreement states that no hazardous materials will be carried by any trains passing through the town.

Companies are also required to publish a list of the materials that will be transported on train cars at least four hours before they roll through town.

The new standards also require the presence of an engineer and a conductor on board trains at all times. 

On a federal level, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has confirmed that a several working groups have been set up to look at changes to how crude oil is classified and transported across the country. 

MM&A bankruptcy hearing begins

As Lac-Mégantic residents gradually return to normal life, a bankruptcy hearing starts Wednesday for Montreal, Maine & Atlantic.

The railway company filed for bankruptcy last summer.

The hearing will aim to establish bidding procedures for the company and set a deadline for people to file claims against the railroad.

There are more than a dozen interested buyers, and there has already been a $14.25-million bid from Railroad Acquisition Holdings LLC.

With files from Canadian Press