September 7, 2013

Maine railway to use two-person crews if it gets financing

A trustee says the decision should not be seen as an admission that one-person crews are unsafe or that a one-person crew led to the deadly disaster in Quebec.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The trustee overseeing the bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway says the company will use two-person train crews in the U.S. if it gets the financing it needs.

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Workers stand before mangled tanker cars Tuesday, July 16, 2013, at the crash site of the train derailment and fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The July 6 crash left 47 people dead and 40 buildings destroyed. (AP Photo/Ryan Remiorz, pool)

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This aerial photo shows a fire in the town of Lac-Megantic as seen from a Sûreté du Québec helicopter Saturday, July 6, 2013 following a train derailment that sparked several explosions in Lac Megantic, Quebec. Nearly 50 people died in the disaster. (AP Photo/Sûreté du Québec via The Canadian Press)

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Portland lawyer Robert J. Keach said the move comes in reaction to criticism of the railroad's decision to stick with one-person crews in the U.S. after one of its trains derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in early July.

The explosion of oil-carrying tanker cars killed 47 people and caused an estimated $200 million in property damage.

The sole crew member on the MM&A train set the brakes but left the train unattended when his shift ended. Canadian authorities are still investigating the disaster and have not blamed the lack of a larger crew for the derailment, but Transport Canada recently required at least two crew members on all trains.

Joseph C. Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Association, said last month he was "shocked" that the MM&A planned to continue to use one-person crews in the U.S.

Keach said his decision should not be interpreted as an admission that a one-person crew is unsafe and he noted that the FRA does not require two-person crews in the U.S. But he said he would follow the FRA's "advice" on the matter.

Keach said he's been holding extensive talks with potential lenders and hoped to announce a financing deal soon. The goal is to sell the railroad by year's end, he said, and added that he has had "introductory" talks with potential buyers.

Keach said beefing up the crews is contingent on the financing, since the railway's budget needs to be increased to cover the additional labor cost.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, who has introduced a bill requiring multiple-person crews, called Keach's announcement "positive news" on Friday and said additional crew members enhance safety.

Szabo's office said he was traveling Friday evening and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@mainetoday.com 

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