Tuesday, May 13, 2014

MM&A, employees face negligence charges

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Former MM&A Railway engineer Thomas Harding Former MM&A Railway engineer Thomas Harding CJAD/800 AM

The bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A) and three of its former employees are to appear in court in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, to face 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death in the runaway derailment and explosion last July 6 of a training carrying oil from North Dakota.

The train's engineer, Thomas Harding, former MM&A manager of train operations Jean Demaître, and rail traffic controller Richard Labrie were arrested on Monday. Each is to be charged with criminal negligence causing the deaths of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, after the unattended MM&A slipped its brakes and started a high-speed runaway that ended in catastrophe.

Hermon, Maine-based MM&A itself is in the final stages of sale to New York-based Fortress Investment Group.

Defense lawyers will argue matters of legal responsibility for the deaths that followed the derailment and fireballs that devastated the town center. The event has been thoroughly investigated and publicly reported by Canada's Transportation Safety Board.

A fire erupted in the locomotive after it had been left unattended on a main line downgrade. The engine had been kept running to maintain air pressure in the brake system. Firemen shut off the engine, and after handing over responsibility to MM&A the train was again left unattended, this time without the engine running.

Maximum penalty for criminal negligence causing death is life imprisonment. There is no limit on the size of the fine that can be imposed on the company.

These are the first criminal charges arising from the disaster that has disrupted the carriage of crude oil from the Bakken shale. Investigators have also seized records from the cargo's consignee, Irving Oil of New Brunswick. Safety board investigators have affirmed that this and other shipments of Bakken crude were incorrectly classified as low-risk when in fact they were as explosive as gasoline.