A Canadian agency investigating the July 6 derailment that caused 47 deaths in Lac- Megantic, Quebec, found that Maine-based Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway had failed to report 20 previous derailments and two runaway train incidents in Canada.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board reported that four of the railroad’s cars rolled out of control down a track in the Farnham, Quebec., rail yard on Sept. 3, 2011, damaging three switches. The train did not derail, and there were no injuries, the board said.
In another runaway incident, four cars rolled about 850 yards through three crossover switches at the Farnham rail yard on Dec. 27, 2012, the board said. No damage or injuries were reported.
Twenty other unreported incidents involved derailments of MM&A cars, four on main tracks and 16 on minor tracks, none of which caused any injuries or major damage, the board said.
There were two other unreported incidents, according to the board, but it did not provide any specifics.
Rather than impose any fines or other sanctions, the board chose to make its reporting rules clearer to MM&A to ensure the company reports such incidents in the future.
However, the rule clarification is moot because the bankrupt MM&A is now defunct, and its assets have been sold to an affiliate of New York-based Fortress Investment Group for nearly $14.3 million.
THE LAC-MEGANTIC INCIDENT
On July 6, an MM&A train pulling dozens of oil-laden tank cars and with faulty brakes rolled driverless down a slight incline into Lac-Megantic while the train conductor was on a sleep break. The tank cars began to derail in the downtown area, spilling an estimated 1.5 million gallons of crude oil and causing an explosion that killed 47 people and destroyed 40 buildings. A month later, MM&A filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
Nineteen wrongful-death lawsuits filed in Illinois by survivors of the derailment victims recently were remanded to the U.S. District Court in Maine. The lawsuits were filed in Illinois initially because MM&A’s parent company, Rail World Inc., is headquartered there.
Daniel Cohn, a Boston-based attorney representing the victims’ families, said the news of previously unreported derailments and runaway trains is irrelevant to the lawsuits because MM&A already has acknowledged its liability for the Lac- Megantic deaths.
“From the victims’ standpoint, the problem is that the railroad doesn’t have any money to pay its claims,” Cohn said. “So this report doesn’t have any bearing on the case.”
Transportation Safety Board spokesman Chris Krepski said via email that the investigation only looked at incidents in Canada, and not in the U.S.
The unreported incidents were discovered after the board requested and reviewed internal MM&A incident reports as part of the Lac-Megantic investigation, Krepski said.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 207-791-6390 or: