MMA, employees fined in Lac-Mégantic case

Written by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor
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Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway derailment Lac-Mégantic Quebec

Six former employees, including the chief executive of the defunct Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, pleaded guilty to federal charges Monday in connection with the deadly derailment that killed 47 and destroyed the center of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013.

The men faced federal charges of breaking Canada’s railway safety and fisheries acts and will have to pay thousands of dollars in fines, including some of the railroad’s top American employees and two of three Canadians who were acquitted of criminal charges in January.

At the Quebec court in Lac-Mégantic , the six who pleaded guilty to not testing the train’s handbrakes after they were applied are Robert Grindrod, CEO and president; Lynne Labonté, general manager of transportation; Kenneth Strout, director of operating practices; Michael Horan, assistant director of operations; Jean Demaître, operations manager, and engineer Tom Harding.

Harding was sentenced to six months, to be served in the community, and maximum fines of $50,000 for the others, for a fund to rebuild the town.

The six were acquitted of a second charge, of not applying a sufficient number of handbrakes, due to a lack of evidence.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. and its Canadian subsidiary, Montréal Maine & Atlantic Canada, were acquitted of both charges.

The Canadian subsidiary was found guilty of a charge under the Fisheries Act related to polluting Rivière Chaudière and Lac Mégantic. The six employees, as well as Richard Labrie, a dispatcher, were acquitted of that charge.

The company was ordered to pay $1 million, the maximum penalty, with the first $400,000 due within six months. The money will go toward cleaning up the lake and river. The railroad is currently under bankruptcy protection.

The charges came after two years of investigations by Environment Canada and Transport Canada, with help from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Prosecutors and defense lawyers reached the plea deal in December.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board In its 2014 report on the disaster cited MMA’s “weak safety culture” and faulted Transport Canada for lax oversight of the carrier.

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