News Wire: Lac-Mégantic disaster trial enters fourth week

4191 views
151 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    September, 2010
  • 1,036 posts
Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Monday, November 13, 2017 8:00 PM

Well Bucky, in this case I agree with you. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Bad locomotive repair, bad track, little support, and many more circumstances all coming together and blam! Death comes to town. And the regulators did little to prevent it. They had lax supervision. Now they look for the scapegoat.

I am reminded of the game of Jienga, where the players keep removing blocks and trys to not be the one who pulls the "key" block that causes the tower to fall. Harding was "it". But all the other players also pulled out blocks.

  • Member since
    December, 2007
  • From: Southeast Michigan
  • 2,836 posts
Posted by Norm48327 on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 8:02 AM

Electroliner 1935

Well Bucky, in this case I agree with you. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Bad locomotive repair, bad track, little support, and many more circumstances all coming together and blam! Death comes to town. And the regulators did little to prevent it. They had lax supervision. Now they look for the scapegoat.

I am reminded of the game of Jienga, where the players keep removing blocks and trys to not be the one who pulls the "key" block that causes the tower to fall. Harding was "it". But all the other players also pulled out blocks.

Electroliner,

I'm in agreement with you. There was decidely fault far above the actions of Thomas Harding. If memory serves he died on the law before he had sufficient time to secure his train and was told to stop work and enter his rest period. Assuming I'm correct, that should transfer some of the liability up the chain of command. One is obligated to follow orders from above or suffer the consequences of not doing so. Think military where you must follow your last order first.

I am of the opinion a change of venue would be in order given my doubts Harding could get a fair trial given the jurors were likely selected from those affcted by the didaster. Far too much emotion involved locally for him to be fairly treated by the jury.

Were I in Harding's position when ordered to stop work and go on rest I would have, on my own time, made certain the train was secure. Rules be damned. They can't tell me what to do once I am off the clock.

The entire situation is sad and regretful. 47 people died and downtown Lac Megantic was reduced to rubble but not due to Harding's actions alone. Others are also culpable right up to the top. Scapegoats are easy to find, and IMO Harding was the easiest one to find.

Norm


  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 12,545 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 9:20 AM

Norm48327
 
Electroliner 1935

Well Bucky, in this case I agree with you. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Bad locomotive repair, bad track, little support, and many more circumstances all coming together and blam! Death comes to town. And the regulators did little to prevent it. They had lax supervision. Now they look for the scapegoat.

I am reminded of the game of Jienga, where the players keep removing blocks and trys to not be the one who pulls the "key" block that causes the tower to fall. Harding was "it". But all the other players also pulled out blocks. 

Electroliner,

I'm in agreement with you. There was decidely fault far above the actions of Thomas Harding. If memory serves he died on the law before he had sufficient time to secure his train and was told to stop work and enter his rest period. Assuming I'm correct, that should transfer some of the liability up the chain of command. One is obligated to follow orders from above or suffer the consequences of not doing so. Think military where you must follow your last order first.

I am of the opinion a change of venue would be in order given my doubts Harding could get a fair trial given the jurors were likely selected from those affcted by the didaster. Far too much emotion involved locally for him to be fairly treated by the jury.

Were I in Harding's position when ordered to stop work and go on rest I would have, on my own time, made certain the train was secure. Rules be damned. They can't tell me what to do once I am off the clock.

The entire situation is sad and regretful. 47 people died and downtown Lac Megantic was reduced to rubble but not due to Harding's actions alone. Others are also culpable right up to the top. Scapegoats are easy to find, and IMO Harding was the easiest one to find.

TSB Report R13D0054
On 05 July 2013, the LE awoke at approximately 0530 and reported for duty at 1330 for MMA-002. When the LE was at home in Farnham, he normally slept about 8 hours per night. When the LE laid over, he usually slept between 5 and 6 hours per night.

Don't believe Harding was HOS when he 'secured' his train.  The train arrived at Nantes (the tie up point) approximately 2250.  12 Hour HOS time would have been 0130.

Another item I found that I find very interesting

TSB Report R13D0054

1.5 Rail traffic control

MMA had 2 RTCs on duty at all times (1 in Bangor and the other in Farnham), with duty periods of 12 hours, starting at 0600 and 1800. The Farnham RTC controlled movements west of Megantic, and the Bangor RTC controlled movements east of Megantic. The Farnham RTC on duty at the time of the accident was a qualified LE with previous experience securing trains at Nantes.

RTC is Canadian parlance for Train Dispatcher - in the US Train Dispatchers are limited to a maximum of 9 hours on duty.  I believe Bangor is in Maine and Maine is a part of the US. ??????

         

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

  • Member since
    August, 2005
  • From: At the Crossroads of the West
  • 8,510 posts
Posted by Deggesty on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 10:18 AM

Balt, I will back you up on the location of Bangor. Of course, there have been disputes over the border of Maine, but I have the impression that they were settled many years ago, leaving Bangor in Maine and Maine one of the early states of the Union.

Johnny

  • Member since
    February, 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 3,459 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 10:37 AM

Yes, Bangor is the jewel in Maine's crown. But given the cold and the number of donut shops in town one could be excused for mistaking it for Canada. 

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 11:38 AM

As I said, I have no idea what this court will decide.  Technically, it seems like a conviction of Harding is inevitable.  People can say that if this or that had not also happened, the disaster would have been averted.  But those items were not against the rules, and there was no way of foreseeing their possible contribution to the runaway.  

It is flawed logic to say (as many have said) that every detail that could have prevented the accident contributed to the cause.  I perceive that this thinking tends to be a smoke screen to diminish the responsibility for the actual cause. Harding was the last person whose action could have prevented the disaster, and he alone broke the rule requiring him to execute that action.

The only possible excuse for him that I can see is that he did not know what the rules required, and did not know that he did not know that.  It seems to me that in order to blame Harding, he would have had to have been required to sign an agreement, as a condition of his employment, which spelled out his duty to abide by rule 112 and all special instructions that supplement that rule.  If he did that, I expect the court to find him guilty of failing to secure the train. 

If he did not do that, then is seems like he just made a mistake.   Clearly he believed he had secured the train, and in practical terms, he had secured it.  It is just that his securement subsequently failed because he had not done it according to rules that would have prevented that failure. 

  • Member since
    February, 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 3,459 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 12:28 PM

Harding, his employer, and others in MMA's employ are all responsible. Sure, Harding was the point man in this disaster, and he likely could have prevented it; however, there wasn't adaquate oversight, and for that the Company is to blame. They lobbied and received permission to run one crew trains on the premise that there would be safety measures in place that would compensate for not having a conductor present. Not only did Harding fail, the Company failed, and the regulatory system of checks and balances failed as well... a total fail all ' round. 

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 1:07 PM

Ulrich

Harding, his employer, and others in MMA's employ are all responsible. Sure, Harding was the point man in this disaster, and he likely could have prevented it; however, there wasn't adaquate oversight, and for that the Company is to blame. They lobbied and received permission to run one crew trains on the premise that there would be safety measures in place that would compensate for not having a conductor present. Not only did Harding fail, the Company failed, and the regulatory system of checks and balances failed as well... a total fail all ' round. 

 

I can see that way of looking at, but I have no idea how the court will look at it.  As I understand it, the charge is criminal.  I am not sure if all those other players' negligence rises to the test for criminal negligence.  Personally, I don't care which way it goes, and I cannot see a way to predict it. 

In what way to you believe that MM&A was negligent for not having safety measures in place that would have compensated for not having a conductor present?

  • Member since
    February, 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 3,459 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 1:20 PM

For starters, not allowing a train of 70 loaded oil cars to be left unattended in any event.  

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 12,545 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 1:26 PM

Do we know the specific charges upon which the defendents are being tried?

         

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 2:09 PM

Ulrich

For starters, not allowing a train of 70 loaded oil cars to be left unattended in any event.  

 

Was MM&A required to take extra safety measures beyond what the Canadian rules and regulations required?  Were new safety regulations imposed on MM&A as a condition of allowing them to run single-man crews?  If so, did MM&A violate those new regulations.  Did leaving the train parked unattended as they did violate any rules or regulations?  I don't know the answers to thse questions.  I am just asking. 

  • Member since
    February, 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 3,459 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 2:28 PM

Rules or no rules, leaving a train unattended and idling at the top of a grade like that was negligent and stupid. As the engineer was likely following orders, he can't be blamed for that part of it. 

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 3:44 PM

Ulrich

Rules or no rules, leaving a train unattended and idling at the top of a grade like that was negligent and stupid. As the engineer was likely following orders, he can't be blamed for that part of it. 

 

I understand.  Relatively speaking, it would be safer not to tie up at the top of a grade on the mainline, and leave the train unattended.  Canadian rules advise to pick a safer place if possible, but they don't forbid it.  It is done all the time.  That is why they place such emphasis on setting the proper number of handbrakes. 

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 3:51 PM

BaltACD

Do we know the specific charges upon which the defendents are being tried?

 

There is some more news coming out today after an apparent lull for a couple weeks or so.  It says here that the defendents are charged with criminal negligence.  I thought I read somewhere that Harding faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/mma-megantic-trial-busque-labrie-1.4400775

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 4,171 posts
Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 4:01 PM

Well, here’s Jean-Noel on the stand and no word on whether he was asked about the firefighters shutting down the sole running engine, who he contacted about that, and what specific response on that point he received other than ‘go to bed’.

Does not bode well how the news workers appear to have successfully spun the ‘little Bo-Peep moment’ into a presumption of near-witless incompetence.  Read the story details and I think a different picture emerges.

  • Member since
    February, 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 3,459 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 4:02 PM

Euclid
Ulrich

Rules or no rules, leaving a train unattended and idling at the top of a grade like that was negligent and stupid. As the engineer was likely following orders, he can't be blamed for that part of it. 

 

 

 

I understand.  Relatively speaking, it would be safer not to tie up at the top of a grade on the mainline, and leave the train unattended.  Canadian rules advise to pick a safer place if possible, but they don't forbid it.  It is done all the time.  That is why they place such emphasis on setting the proper number of handbrakes. 

 

 

Commonsense 101: Do not leave a fully loaded oil train unattended at any time. 

  • Member since
    December, 2004
  • 583 posts
Posted by tdmidget on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 4:17 PM

Overmod

  Read the story details and I think a different picture emerges.

 

And where do we find these "story details" ?

  • Member since
    December, 2007
  • From: Southeast Michigan
  • 2,836 posts
Posted by Norm48327 on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 4:17 PM

[quote user="Overmod"]

Well, here’s Jean-Noel on the stand and no word on whether he was asked about the firefighters shutting down the sole running engine, who he contacted about that, and what specific response on that point he received other than ‘go to bed’.

Does not bode well how the news workers appear to have successfully spun the ‘little Bo-Peep moment’ into a presumption of near-witless incompetence.  Read the story details and I think a different picture emerges./quote]

Overmod,

Your post reflects my thoughts about the press and media in general. "If it bleeds it leads" has been their motto for a long time and while it may sell newspapers it isn't always fair. At this point we have only news reports to garner information from. I don't know if TSB Canada has released their final report.

The information we get from the media is questional at best.

Norm


  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 4,171 posts
Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 4:52 PM

tdmidget
And where do we find these "story details" ?

In the CBC story that Euclid provided the link for, a few posts earlier today.

  • Member since
    January, 2002
  • From: On the Ballast.
  • 5,805 posts
Posted by zugmann on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 8:59 PM

---

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

I occasionally post off-topic remarks.  Adults can handle that.

  • Member since
    January, 2002
  • From: On the Ballast.
  • 5,805 posts
Posted by zugmann on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 9:01 PM

Ulrich
Rules or no rules, leaving a train unattended and idling at the top of a grade like that was negligent and stupid. As the engineer was likely following orders, he can't be blamed for that part of it.

Problem was that it wasn't idling.  As long as a train is properly tied down, you can leave it wherever and it won't move.  Note the word properly.

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

I occasionally post off-topic remarks.  Adults can handle that.

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 12,545 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 9:05 PM

         

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 9:57 AM

Ulrich
 
Euclid
Ulrich

Rules or no rules, leaving a train unattended and idling at the top of a grade like that was negligent and stupid. As the engineer was likely following orders, he can't be blamed for that part of it. 

 

 

 

I understand.  Relatively speaking, it would be safer not to tie up at the top of a grade on the mainline, and leave the train unattended.  Canadian rules advise to pick a safer place if possible, but they don't forbid it.  It is done all the time.  That is why they place such emphasis on setting the proper number of handbrakes. 

 

 

 

 

Commonsense 101: Do not leave a fully loaded oil train unattended at any time. 

 

I do agree with that in the case of the oil train that ran away and caused the Lac Megantic fire.  There were several details that combined to make it way too large of a risk.

It was a large train of oil that happened to be as combustible as gasoline.  A high speed derailment was bound to breach many cars and provide instant ignition, creating a massive fire that would spread freely with the flowing fuel. 

It was left on a grade that was long enough and steep enough to allow a runaway train to reach 65 mph.  There was a curve in Lac Megantic that was too sharp to handle a train at that speed without derailing. 

The train was left on the mainline without any securement supplements such as derails or other cars secured standing ahead of it. 

Therefore, if the securement failed, all the rest that did happen was inevitable.  So even if the securement was sufficient to hold the train, there is always the possiblity of sabotage by persons releasing the handbrakes, which would have yieled the same resulting death, injury, and destruction. 

So yes, I agree that it was a brain dead decision to tie up the train at Nantes.  It was a "loaded gun to the head" of the people living in Lac Megantic. 

 

 

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Sunday, November 19, 2017 8:48 PM

I noticed that the handbrake rules called for a certain number of handbrakes applied, and that number varies according to whether they are applied when a service application of the automatic brake is in effect.  And if a service application is in effect, the number of handbrakes required varies according to the amount of reduction made in the service application.  Assuming that the service application will not be part of the securement, why should it influence the number of handbrakes required to secure the train? 

The only reason I can think of is that there may be an expectation that you get a tighter handbrake if you apply it with the automatic brake set, even though the automatic is later released during the securement period.  If that is the reason, it raises some questions in my mind.  But that reason is just a guess on my part. 

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Northern New York
  • 17,350 posts
Posted by tree68 on Sunday, November 19, 2017 10:43 PM

Euclid
The only reason I can think of is that there may be an expectation that you get a tighter handbrake if you apply it with the automatic brake set, even though the automatic is later released during the securement period.

When we set hand brakes in order to secure our trains, we make a full service application.  Why rely on muscle power when the air can do most of the job for you?

LarryWhistling
Resident Microferroequinologist (at least at my house) 
Everyone goes home; Safety begins with you
My Opinion. Standard Disclaimers Apply. No Expiration Date
Come ride the rails with me!
There's one thing about humility - the moment you think you've got it, you've lost it...

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Monday, November 20, 2017 7:25 AM

tree68
 
Euclid
The only reason I can think of is that there may be an expectation that you get a tighter handbrake if you apply it with the automatic brake set, even though the automatic is later released during the securement period.

 

When we set hand brakes in order to secure our trains, we make a full service application.  Why rely on muscle power when the air can do most of the job for you?

 

What would that have to do with how many handbrakes are required?

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 4,171 posts
Posted by Overmod on Monday, November 20, 2017 7:51 AM

Euclid

What would that have to do with how many handbrakes are required?

Thought you said you had experience with this.

The braking to ‘all wheels‘ under A freight car is done with an equalizing network of rods, levers and beams sometimes called the ‘foundation’.  There is a certain amount of slack in this (which grows greater over time and is addressed with automatic slack adjuster mechanisms) and of course there needs to be enough play when released that any given brakeshoe won’t contact or drag on its tread.  All this has to be wound out through the force-multiplying mechanism in a handbrake unless you have pulled it out already by air application.

Likewise when winding on after the shoes are all seated on treads requires lots of elbow grease... unless the air has already set the brakes to engagement, in which case just spinning the wheel or pumping the lever to resistance gets you where you need to be.

Works a bit different on locomotives but that is covered for you in the TSB report better than I could do.

  • Member since
    June, 2002
  • 13,105 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Monday, November 20, 2017 7:55 AM

When the brakes are applied by air, you can spin the handbrake wheel or lever easily, since the air has already done the job of compressing the spirngs, and when suddenly a far greater force is required, you know you have applied maximum braking power or very close to it.  When you do the work by hand, you have to use a great deal of force for the entire appliation, and as you apply the brake, the force required keeps getting larger and larger, so there is no specific point to know the brake has been applied thoroughly.  Logically then, using air and then applying hand-brakes results in stronger brake application.

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 3,984 posts
Posted by Euclid on Monday, November 20, 2017 8:17 AM

daveklepper
Logically then, using air and then applying hand-brakes results in stronger brake application.

I fully understand the mechanical principle involved.  My question boils down to this:  If it requires airbrakes being applied to get an adequate handbrake set, why do the rules not simply require having a certain level of air brake application during the manual setting of handbrakes? 

With air assistance, why would people not be inclined to reduce their handbrake effort below what is acually needed because they feel that air has already done the work?  That would get into the exact same area of relying of air brakes being set to supplement securement by handbrakes, although it would arrive at that risky result by a slightly different route. 

 

  • Member since
    June, 2002
  • 13,105 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Monday, November 20, 2017 8:26 AM

Esssentially, with both preceding posts, your guess was correct.   Should have

added this to my post.  My comment above is in addition to, not a replacement for the previous onw.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy

Search the Community