August 23, 2013

U.S. railroad chief 'shocked' at Maine company's single-person train crews

He tells the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway that he expects two-person crews in the U.S.

By J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The nation's top railroad administrator has told the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway that he is "shocked" that the company has not adopted a policy of using two-person crews on its trains in the United States.

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Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, speaks to the media in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July. The top U.S. railroad administrator has written to him seeking assurance that the railroad won't use one-person crews in the U.S.

Reuters

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Read Federal Railroad Administration chief's letter to MM&A

In a letter to the Maine-based company, Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Joseph Szabo said he expects the railroad to stop manning trains with one-person crews.

"In the aftermath of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic derailment at Lac-Megantic, Canada, I was shocked to see that you changed your operating procedures to use two-person crews on trains in Canada, but not in the United States," the letter says. "Because the risk associated with this accident also exists in the United States, it is my expectation that the same safety procedures will apply to your operations here."

Szabo's letter requests confirmation from the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic's chairman, Ed Burkhardt, that it will start using two-person crews.

Burkhardt could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

On July 6, a parked Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train hauling crude oil got loose with no one aboard and rolled downhill into the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic. It derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying 40 buildings in the heart of town.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection about a month after the derailment.

Maine U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree praised Szabo for sending the letter.

"We agree with Administrator Szabo -- it makes no sense to put two-person crews on trains operating in Canada and not in the United States. All of the communities that their trains pass through deserve the same protection that comes from increasing crew size," said a joint statement from Michaud and Pingree.

Michaud has introduced the Safe Freight Act, a bill to require a minimum of two-person crews for freight trains. Pingree is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

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

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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