'Runaway Train' Carrying Oil Goes up in Flames, Killing 47 in Small Town


There is an old saying about how turning a different corner can make things turn out in a completely different way.

For the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, remove any one thing in a “chain of 18 contributing factors,” and their tragedy involving a train may not have ever happened.

Although the tragedy struck on July 6, 2013, the damage was so great and the legal process so lengthy that the pain is continuously relived by those affected.

On board the unmanned runaway train were 7.7 million liters of crude oil. The spill burst into 200-foot flames and what didn’t burn seeped into the ground and contaminated the Chaudiere river.

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After the 72-car train derailed in the middle of town, 27 children lost their parents and a total of 47 people were pronounced dead.

More than 40 buildings ended up being razed and as of January 2018, the town still faces millions of dollars in reconstruction and decontamination.

Although many in the town blame Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) Railway and Transport Canada, it was three of the rail company’s employees who faced charges instead.

Tom Harding, Jean Demaitre, and Richard Labrie were all charged with criminal negligence causing death.

According to the BBC, “Harding was the sole engineer of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) Railway train that derailed…Labrie was in charge of rail circulation and Demaitre was manager of train operations that night.”

On January 19, 2018 all three were acquitted by a jury. According to CBC News, the judge had spent nine hours giving instructions to the jury prior to them entering into deliberations on the individual verdicts for the accused men.

But more legal actions are ahead, with MMA now also facing criminal neglect charges. In addition, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Canadian Pacific Railway.

The community moves forward despite all of this, fighting to have the rail line rerouted from the middle of town to outside of it.

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Musi-Cafe, a popular bar, was packed with people when it was hit by the explosion. Now rebuilt in a new location, they are honoring the memory of the 30 victims who died in the establishment with their names “etched into the bar’s new speakers.”

Lac-Megantic Mayor Julie Morin shared with the BBC the positive outlook the town has adopted, “It changed everything, this tragedy. But it’s also an opportunity to rebuild, and rebuild better. And that’s what we’re doing.”

She added that the town is very much “pre-occupied” with the battle to move the rail line. “All the rest – it changes nothing about what happened and what we’re living with now.”

The town will be building a memorial near the “red zone,” which is the place where the derailment occured.

In the midst of the tragedy, attention has been brought to dangerous practices that have since been addressed, hopefully sparing others from undergoing what the people of Lac-Magantic have suffered.

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