Montreal

Unsecured train left on MMA tracks just 2 days after Lac-Mégantic tragedy, trial hears

Retired Transport Canada inspector Alain Richer testified he and a colleague discovered an 89-car MMA train parked at Vachon, Que., two days after the deadly derailment had been left secured with half the required number of handbrakes.

Transport Canada inspector found 89-car train with 5 handbrakes applied, half the required number

Retired Transport Canada inspector Alain Richer testified he and a colleague discovered an 89-car MMA train parked at Vachon, near Lac-Mégantic, two days after the deadly derailment had been left secured with half the required number of handbrakes. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

Two days after a runaway train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, exploding and killing 47 people, Transport Canada inspector Alain Richer found another train belonging to the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway parked in nearby Vachon hadn't been properly secured.

Richer, now retired, testified Monday at the trial of Thomas Harding, 56, Jean Demaître, 53, and Richard Labrie, 59. The three former MMA employees are charged with criminal negligence causing 47 deaths in connection with the 2013 rail disaster.

According to Richer, when he and another Transport Canada employee went to inspect the 89-car train, they noticed it had been secured with only five handbrakes.

"They hadn't met the minimum required," Richer testified.

He said MMA's own internal regulations showed the train should have been secured with double that number of handbrakes.

To determine the minimum number of handbrakes, Richer testified, workers had to follow a simple calculation, outlined on a chart in the company's general instructions: Take 10 per cent of the number of rails cars, then add two.

Based on that chart, the train parked in Vachon should have been secured with 10 handbrakes, Richer said.

The derailment of the runaway MMA tanker-train on July 6, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Que., triggered a series of explosions that killed 47 people. (Reuters)

When Richer noticed only five handbrakes had been applied, he contacted an MMA supervisor, who sent an employee to the site. That employee, Randy Stahl, performed a brake efficiency test on the train as Richer watched.

This essentially means engaging the locomotive's throttle at its lowest power setting to see if it would move or stay put. The train didn't move, passing the test.

Just the same, Stahl put on an additional seven handbrakes, bringing the number to 12. However, Michael Horan, MMA's assistant director of operations, later added another three handbrakes, bringing the total to 15, the trial has heard.

Richer also testified that MMA employees had not inspected the tanker cars involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster. He said according to the rules and regulations, the cars didn't warrant an inspection, as the train had already been certified by Canadian Pacific Rail employees at the Côte Saint-Luc yard before it left for Farnham.

Penalty brake failed to kick in

Richer also testified on tests he and a colleague performed on locomotive 5017, the lead locomotive involved in the July 6, 2013 derailment, to determine how long it took for the air brakes to lose their efficiency on the night the train derailed.

The court heard earlier in the trial that the locomotive had been shut down by firefighters who doused a fire on board about an hour before it rolled, unmanned, down the track towards Lac-Mégantic.

Richer said the test was to determine how much air was left inside the air conduit when the train broke away.

Harding's lawyer asked the witness if the test was also to determine why the penalty brake — a type of backup defence, mean to prevent runaway trains — didn't kick in.

"We already knew there was no emergency application. Indeed, we wanted to know why," said Richer.

Richer said the test did identify the cause. The explanation of that cause is being left to another Crown witness, Stephen Callaghan, a rail expert who is to testify later in the trial.

Richer resumes his testimony before Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas and a 14-member jury at the Sherbrooke courthouse Tuesday.

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 6:00 PM ET
  • 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 6:03 PM ET

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