Lac-Mégantic residents divided over whether to move train tracks: BAPE report

Quebec's environmental review board, BAPE, has released its recommendations on the future of the train tracks running through the town where a freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in 2013, killing 47 people.

Town leaders favour detour north of town, but many residents want to leave tracks where they are

An unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil ran away and derailed, resulting in the fire and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que., in July 2013. (CBC)

Quebec's environmental review board, BAPE, has released its recommendations on the relocation of the train tracks running through Lac-Mégantic, four years after a freight train carrying crude oil derailed in the centre of town and exploded, killing 47 people.

The report shows that residents in the Eastern Townships community are divided over whether to keep the rail line where it is or to build a bypass around town.

The BAPE held extensive public consultations and noted that frequently, the hearings became a public platform for residents to share their stories of how they have suffered since the catastrophic derailment.

Town favours bypass

Overall, five options were considered: two that would keep the tracks where they are now, and three that would see the rail line bypass the town.

The option favoured by the municipality of Lac-Mégantic, option three, is to reroute the train tracks to the north of town, an 11.7-kilometre bypass, while many residents are in favour of leaving them where they are.

The detour path favoured by the town would roughly follow highway 161, minimizing the line's proximity to residences and businesses. It would cost an estimated $115 million to build. 

The BAPE said Lac-Mégantic and surrounding municipalities favour this idea — so much so that the municipality had already started its own environmental assessment of that option before Tuesday's report was released. 

Public opinion in the days immediately after the derailment reflected a desire to move the line.

However, now many residents favour the first option, referred to as the "status quo option" in the report: keeping the rail line where it is.

The BAPE said it wasn't able to study this option properly, because the town of Lac-Mégantic dismissed it from the start of the process. The report said the status quo should be at least considered and properly studied. 

Calls to improve security, surveillance

Residents in favour of leaving the tracks where they are are more likely to think the derailment was caused by a series of human errors and want improved security and surveillance for the existing rail line, according to the report.

Moving the tracks would simply transfer the problem to neighbouring municipalities, those residents told the BAPE.

Others — those in favour of moving the tracks — said that the risk of another derailment is too high.

They are also concerned about the steep grade of the segment of track where the unattended train that derailed in 2013 had been parked before its brakes failed and it began its descent into Lac Mégantic.