Montreal

Locomotive defects never relayed to rail traffic controller, Lac-Mégantic trial hears

Steve Jacques, the former MMA rail traffic controller who gave the green light to a 10,000-tonne fuel train leave Farnham station on its last ill-fated trip on July 5, 2013, testified that he was not aware the lead locomotive was defective.

Controller who gave fuel train OK to leave on ill-fated trip said no one told him locomotive was defective

Steve Jacques, an ex-MMA rail traffic controller, was the 25th witness to testify at the trial of three former colleagues charged with criminal negligence causing death in connection with the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. (CBC)

The former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) rail traffic controller who gave locomotive engineer Tom Harding the green light to leave Farnham, Que., on the last trip of the 10,000-tonne fuel train on July 5, 2013 testified that he was not aware the lead locomotive was defective.

Steve Jacques stood in the witness box at the Sherbrooke courthouse for a second day Thursday, testifying at the trial of three former colleagues, Harding, 56, rail traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and operations manager Jean Demaître, 53.
Former MMA locomotive engineer François Daigle testified on Oct. 24 that he still wonders if he could have done anything to prevent the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

Each is charged with criminal negligence causing 47 deaths — a reference to the number of people killed 12 hours after the train pulled out of Farnham, derailing and exploding early in downtown Lac-Mégantic.

Earlier in the trial, the jury saw evidence that two other engineers who drove locomotive 5017, the lead engine on the ill-fated train, in the days leading up to the tragedy had each filled out forms noting mechanical issues with the locomotive.

One of those engineers, François Daigle, testified last month he never conveyed the information to the rail traffic controller on duty at the time, although he did ask Demaître, his supervisor, to change the lead locomotive.

Under cross-examination by Demaître's lawyer, Gaétan Bourassa, Jacques told the court no one told him about any problem with the train before it left the station.

"Did Mr. Marone [an MMA railyard employee] tell you about problems with the 5017?" asked Bourassa.  

"Not at all." said Jacques.

"Did Mr. Beaudin, who was mechanic who worked with the 5017, talk to you about problems with the 5017?" pressed Bourassa.

"No," Jacques repeated.

"Did Mr. Gendreau, who was working with the mechanic, talk to you about problems with the 5017?"  asked Bourassa.  

"No," said Jacques, once again.

"Is it correct to say that Mr. Daigle ... who was present on site, given a conversation that we heard, never mentioned a problem with 5017 to you?" asked Bourassa.   

"No, because I would have written it on a transfer for sure," Jacques said.

MMA locomotive 5017, the lead engine on the 73-tanker car train that derailed and exploded, had a history of mechanical problems in the days leading up to the Lac-Mégantic disaster, the trial has heard. (Richard Marchi/RRPictureArchives.net)

'If it's rolling, it's rolling'

Shortly after leaving the station on the afternoon of July 5, Harding called Jacques to tell him about a problem with the train.  

In audio recordings played in court, Tom Harding asks Jacques  "Did anyone talk about a problem with engine hunting [overheating] on the 5017?" asks Harding.  

"No," Jacques is heard replying.

Jacques acknowledged he did not document Harding's concern about the engine's mechanical problems, however.

He said certain problems, such as fires and overheating of locomotives, were frequent and usually dealt with by the teams on the ground, without bothering the higher-ups.  

"Is this why we don't see this problem in the document you gave to Labrie that evening?" asked Bourassa. "You didn't mention it to Jean Demaître?"

" Yes," Jacques agreed. "So it doesn't die, it just keeps pushing. If it dies, I'll write it in the transfer myself personally."

"If it's rolling, it's rolling," he said.

Jacques is expected to continue his testimony Monday.

Trial to go into new year

The trial, originally scheduled to last until Dec. 21, will most likely spill over into January, Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas told the jury Thursday.

Dumas assured jurors, however, that they would not be sequestered during the holidays — a statement met with brimming smiles from the fourteen people in the jury box.

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 6:53 PM ET

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