July 16, 2013

After Quebec disaster, railroad inspectors coming to Maine

The federal review will start less than two weeks after a train disaster in Quebec that killed 50 people and devastated an entire town.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6 At least 50 people were confirmed dead in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

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PDF: Michaud-Pingree Letter to Federal Officials

"An event like this requires a full accounting of the vulnerabilities of existing (railroad) infrastructure in Maine. We all have an obligation to ensure that any safety issues are identified and dealt with quickly. This is even more important at a time when crude oil shipments through Maine are skyrocketing," Pingree and Michaud wrote.

Pingree and Michaud issued a joint statement Monday announcing that the Federal Railroad Administration will return to Maine this week to take a much closer look at the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway's operations. The company is based in Hermon.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald.

The federal inspection will be done in conjunction with an independent review by the Maine Department of Transportation of all freight safety records compiled by the rail administration.

The review was initiated through an executive order July 9 by Gov. Paul LePage, said Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot.

The governor told the department to look at all available safety reports and inspection results and, if necessary, recommend action to solve problems with rail lines in Maine. Talbot said the department must file a report with the governor by Oct. 9.

The unmanned 72-car train, which rolled down a seven-mile-long hill before crashing and exploding, destroyed much of Lac-Megantic's downtown. The train was eastbound, heading toward Maine, when it derailed at 1:15 a.m. on July 6.

According to its website, the Maine, Montreal & Atlantic Railway began operating in January 2003. It owns 510 miles of track in Maine, Vermont and Quebec, and employs 170 people. Its main line trains operate between Millinocket and Searsport, and from Brownville Junction to Montreal.

"Our hearts go out to the Lac-Megantic community for the tragedy that unfolded in their town on July 6," the company says in a statement on its website. "The anguish of what has transpired in the deaths of so many is great, and words cannot express how deeply we feel for the pain and uncertainty being experienced by so many."

In Washington, D.C., on Monday, U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins of Maine paid tribute to the 30 volunteer firefighters who rushed from their homes in Chesterville, Eustis, Farmington, New Vineyard, Phillips, Strong and Rangeley to help in Lac-Megantic.

"These brave Mainers showed true strength of character, strength of character that enabled them to overcome fear in pursuit of the greater good," King said Monday on the floor of the Senate. "It is without doubt that their actions saved countless lives, and we owe these American heroes our enduring gratitude."

-- Staff Writer Tom Bell contributed to this report.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


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