New railway track to bypass downtown Lac-Mégantic

After years of pressure from residents, the federal and provincial governments have confirmed an alternate train route will be built at a cost of $133 million to bypass downtown Lac-Mégantic.

Federal, provincial governments to announce new train route Friday

Radio-Canada has confirmed a new rail bypass will be built to keep trains out of downtown Lac-Mégantic. (Submitted by Robert Bellefleur)

Nearly five years after a runaway train laden with fuel killed 47 people after it derailed and exploded in the centre of Lac-Mégantic, Radio-Canada has confirmed Ottawa and the province will move ahead with a $133-million project to build a new track bypassing the community.

The federal government will foot 60 per cent of the bill for the construction of the 11-kilometre track, with Québec covering the remainder of the cost.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard are expected to make the  official announcement in Lac-Mégantic Friday.

Since the tragedy, many residents of the town 100 kilometres east of Sherbrooke, Que., have been demanding trains stop running through the town.

Third option chosen

Last year, Quebec's environmental review board held public consultations in the community to evaluate three proposed routes for the new track.

The third of those options, which was approved by the review board and supported by elected officials in Lac-Mégantic, will go ahead.
CLICK TO ENLARGE: The chosen bypass route for Lac-Mégantic is outlined in yellow. (BAPE)

The bypass will begin west of the village of Frontenac and cross the Chaudière River, then run parallel to existing tracks in Lac-Mégantic's industrial sector before ending at the intersection of highways 161 and 262.

Construction work will get underway in 2019 and is expected to take two years to complete.

In March,Trudeau confirmed financial support for the rail bypass on social media, and federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Ottawa would contribute a "substantial amount."  However, no money was set aside for Lac-Mégantic in the last federal budget.

Residents taken aback

Robert Bellefleur, the spokesperson for a coalition of concerned citizens in Lac-Mégantic said he's disappointed residents have been told nothing about the decision to go ahead with the bypass.

"The province's environmental review board suggested the three municipalities affected be informed about the evolution of the project through public meetings," he said.

"But that never happened. We're hearing about this for the first time this morning."

Bellefleur believes the government is using the announcement as an election ploy.

"It seems the decision was made on the sly, behind closed doors," he said.

Bellefleur said he thinks the chosen route for the bypass will be divisive for the communities of Lac-Mégantic, Nantes and Frontenac.

"We would have preferred the route that runs further north, rather than that which has been chosen," he said.

"It would have been more acceptable for residents."

Bellefleur said the municipalities have already suffered enough, and the government should be trying to unite rather than divide them.

Two meetings are scheduled, with the mayor of Lac-Mégantic and with residents who will be affected by the new track, today and tomorrow.