Lac-Mégantic residents press for rail bypass on 3-year anniversary of disaster

Three years after a freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, residents are renewing calls for a rail line that circumvents the town.

'Everyone is still afraid of the train,' spokesperson for citizens' coalition for rail safety says

Robert Bellefleur, spokesman for the Lac-Mégantic citizens' coalition for rail safety, says the federal and provincial governments need to do more to improve safety in the town. (Radio-Canada)

Three years after a freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, residents are renewing calls for a rail line that circumvents the town. 

There have been promises to build a bypass by 2021-2022, but a local safety group says it should happen sooner. 

"The train still goes through downtown with tanks filled with dangerous products," said Robert Bellefleur, spokesman for a citizens' coalition for rail safety.

"Everyone is still afraid of the train."

Bellefleur called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to move swiftly to make the bypass happen.

Trudeau made no mention of a bypass, but said the country is working toward improving rail safety.

"We remember you and all that you lost, and will use this memory to strengthen our resolve to make our railroads the safest in the world, and ensure the tragic events of Lac-Mégantic never happen again," Trudeau said in a statement.

Forty-seven people died after a freight train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013. (CBC)

Bellefleur made the comments at a morning news conference in Nantes, Que., where the train carrying crude oil was parked on July 6, 2013 before it rolled into Lac-Mégantic and destroyed much of its downtown core.

In all, 47 people were killed in the disaster.

Residents held a noon ceremony to mark the third anniversary of the disaster, where church bells rang 47 times, once for each victim.

Struggling to move forward

Restoration work in the town is underway following the demolition of damaged structures and removal of contaminated soil

Infrastructure projects currently being built include electricity, communications and sewers. Frontenac Street, at the town's centre, is expected to reopen this fall.

Stéphane Lavallée, director of the Lac-Mégantic Reconstruction Office, said "the best way to honour the ones who died is to move forward."

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway filed for bankruptcy after the tragedy. Three men, including Tom Harding, the train's conductor, are each facing 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.

Tom Harding, right, Jean Demaitre, centre, and Richard Labrie were escorted by police to appear in court in Lac-Mégantic, Que., in May 2014. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The new owner of the tracks, the Bangor, Maine-based Central Maine & Quebec Railroad, spent millions of dollars to improve safety before resuming shipments of hazardous materials in the fall of 2014.

As it stands, trains are limited to 16 kilometres per hour while travelling through town.

But no crude oil has moved through Lac-Mégantic since the tragedy. Central Maine & Quebec CEO John Giles has promised to visit Lac-Mégantic to talk to residents about safety when oil shipments eventually resume.

Giles said the railroad's business is growing but that the funding for a bypass would have to come from the province and from the Canadian government. The small railroad doesn't have millions of dollars to invest on the project, he said.

with files from Associated Press