July 14, 2013

For rail company, rebirth may yield to ruin

The rising demand for crude oil transit gave hope to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, but may also be prove to be its undoing.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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In this Feb. 19, 2010 file photo, rail cars sit idled on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway junction in Oakfield, Maine.

AP

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Even though MM&A's financial picture improved last year once it started to transport oil, it's not clear whether the tracks have been improved, including the stretch in Lac-Megantic. The investigation into that crash will look at whether track conditions were a factor.

From 2006 through 2012, track conditions were the primary cause of 10 of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic's 19 derailments. Similarly, 13 of the 20 derailments on Pan Am tracks were due to poor tracks.

The majority of those derailments were relatively minor incidents without spills or injuries.

Liability aside, MM&A's response to the derailment, which has been widely criticized, also could play a role in the company's future.

Burkhardt did not visit the scene until Wednesday, five days after the accident occurred.

When asked by a reporter how much he was worth, Burkhardt replied, "A whole lot less than Saturday."

Burkhardt also appeared to contradict himself. At first, he said the train had been tampered with; then he acknowledged that the engineer likely was at fault for not properly applying hand brakes to keep the cars from moving.

Beall, the railroad litigation expert from Georgia, said he -- like many -- was surprised to hear that the derailed train was operated by a one-person crew.

"There used to be five-person crews," he said. "If you whittle that down to two people or one person, what's going to happen? They are going to cut corners."

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

 

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