Lac-Mégantic train disaster: engineer's emergency calls released
Recordings reveal Tom Harding did not initially know his train had derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic
CBC Radio-Canada has obtained recorded telephone conversations between train engineer Tom Harding and a dispatcher from the night of the deadly rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., last year that killed 47 people.
The conversations show that Harding was initially unaware that it was his train that was responsible for the town being on fire.
The seven phone calls took place between July 5 at 11:04 p.m. ET and July 6 at 3:53 a.m. ET — the night the train derailed and exploded in the town's downtown core. They also contain one conversation Harding had with a rail traffic controller in the U.S.
This audio file, which was released to CBC and other media by Harding's lawyer, Tom Walsh, contains all the calls Harding made during that time.
The quotes below are from an edited version of a transcript provided to CBC by The Globe and Mail.
In the recordings, Harding calls a dispatcher — to whom he refers as RJ — at the MM&A offices in Farnham, Que.
At 1:47 a.m., Harding, who had already signed off for the night, calls the office to let the dispatcher know there is an emergency in Lac-Mégantic.
"Everything is on fire, from the church all the way down to the Metro, from the river all the way to the railway tracks...Flames, RJ, are 200 feet high. It's incredible, you can't believe it here," Harding said during the phone call he placed from a gas station after his hotel was evacuated.
It was only about two hours later, at 3:29 a.m., that Harding found out his train had rolled down a hill, derailed and exploded in the town's downtown core.
Harding called the dispatcher for more information about the blast, when RJ told him the news.
RJ: It's uh, it's your train that rolled down.
RJ: Yes, sir.
TH: No, RJ.
RJ: Yes, sir.
TH: Holy f--k. F--k!
Harding insisted he secured the train before he retired for the night.
TH: It was secure, RJ, when I left.
TH: She was f****** secure. F***!
RJ: That's what I, that's what I got as a news.
TH: And when did you get the news? Just a few minutes ago?
RJ: At 2:25, to be correct.
TH: Oh, Jesus Christ….How in the f*** did that thing f****** roll down, RJ?
RJ: I don't know. How many brakes did you put on?
TH: The units, the V.B., and the first car, seven brakes.
Harding has since been charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence in connection with the incident.
- Lac-Mégantic unsealed documents say train engineer didn't follow MM&A rules
- MM&A Railway faces charges in Lac-Mégantic disaster
- Lac-Mégantic families welcome charges against MM&A Railway workers
Two other MM&A employees — manager of train operations Jean Demaitre, and Richard Labrie, the railway's traffic controller — and the company also face the same charges.