Lac Mégantic: Blame the Railroad Worker on Steroids

Lac Mégantic: Blame the Railroad Worker on Steroids
on Lac Mégantic: Blame the Worker on Steroids
lac megantic workerAn unmanned, half-mile long train “bomb train” carrying tank-cars full of highly explosive crude oil barrels toward a city where it is doomed to derail on a curve, killing everyone in its wake. Luckily, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine show up to save the city at the last second. Everyone lives happily every after.

That was the plot of the 2010 film “Unstoppable.” It’s a fun film. I recommend it.

In real life, however, in the small town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, Canada on July 5, 2016, Denzel and Chris never showed up.

At around 1:00 am on July 6, 2013, an unmanned train carrying 72 tank-cars of highly combustible crude oil barreled down a hill at 65 mph, three times the normal speed, and careened off the track, disgorging six million liters of highly combustible petroleum crude. Within moments the oil exploded. The resulting inferno obliterated most of the downtown and incinerated 47 persons.

As might be expected, there were many stories to be told here, and hopefully someone is writing a book: the safety of transporting highly hazardous crude oil in fragile tank cars over thousands of miles of poorly maintained track; the impact of an out-of control fossil fuel economy on the environment, on workers in the industry and on citizens in its wake; the damage caused by a rapacious rail company focused more on cost cutting than safety; and the weakness of government oversight (even in Canada.)

But the story we’ll be telling here is one that we’ve heard many times before — the tendency of those who have responsibility for a catastrophe to shift blame onto individual workers instead of identifying the root causes and systemic problems that, if addressed, could prevent future catastrophes. In this case we’re focusing on the arrest of the engineer and sole crew member, Tom Harding, as well as traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre. Harding, Labrie and Demaitre were were handcuffed and frog-marched to prison. All three have pleaded not-guilty to 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death. Jury selection is currently under way.

I’ve been writing this on and off for several months, since I attended a music benefit for the rail workers. As I began looking into their story, in injustice and plain stupidity of their prosecution became alarmingly evident. I could probably write a book on this one incident (and hopefully someone is already doing that), but out of consideration for my readers, I’m going to make this as short as possible. As those of you who read Confined Space have probably guessed, this is going to be an article on the stupidity of blaming workers for this tragedy when as we will see, there was a train-car load of other systemic causes that, if not addressed, will result in many more of these catastrophes.

Also note that I will frequently refer to Andrew Hopkins’ book Lessons From Longford: The Esso Gas Plant Explosion which lays out many of the principles of conducting a root cause investigation of the systemic causes of an industrial disaster.

What Happened

First, let’s review the events. On the evening of July 5, 2016, Tom Harding, the engineer and lone crew member of the 72-car train, operated by the now-bankrupt Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) parked the train on a hill a few miles above the town Lac Mégantic, in Quebec, Canada, after having mechanical problems with the lead engine. Per instructions from headquarters, Harding set the air brakes on the lead locomotive, which he left running to keep air pressure supplied to the air brakes. He also applied a number of hand brakes. Per instruction, he then took a taxi to a nearby hotel, planning to deal with the locomotive’s mechanical problems in the morning.

Shortly before midnight, the lead locomotive, spewing oil from multiple leaks, caught fire. The fire department arrived to put out the fire and also shut down the lead locomotive to keep more oil from into the fire. After the fire department left, the airbrake, which was depended on the operating of the locomotive that had been shut down, began to lose pressure. The train began descending down the hill, picking up speed along the 7.2 miles to Lac Mégantic. When it hit the curve in Lac Mégantic, the train derailed, rupturing many of the cars and bursting into an inferno that killed 47 people in the town.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) conducted a through report in 2014, issuing 18 “Findings as to causes and contributing factors” and 16 additional “Findings as to risk.” The second “Finding as to causes and contributing Factors” concluded that “The 7 hand brakes that were applied to secure the train were insufficient to hold the train without the additional braking force provided by the locomotive’s independent brakes.”

Lac Megantic workerOn that basis, Tom Harding, along with two colleagues, traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre were arrested and accused of being responsible for he disaster. Conviction on a charge of criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Harding’s crime was not setting enough hand brakes to keep the train from rolling down the hill and his arrest was not pretty. He was “surrounded at his home by a SWAT team and led away in handcuffs to face charges of criminal negligence causing death, despite the fact that his lawyer had notified the police that Mr. Harding would voluntarily come to the court when asked to appear to face charges. He was escorted to a makeshift courtroom in full view of the news media.”

The Causes of the Lac Mégantic Disaster

As avid readers of Confined Space understand quite well by now, resolving safety issues is not as simple as finding a couple of workers to blame and firing them or throwing them in jail for life. Because if you don’t identify the root causes of a problem, everyone may feel a lot better for a while, but the problem will inevitably repeat itself.

In any accident investigation, there are direct causes (e.g. failure to set enough hand brakes) of the incident and then there are the systemic, inherent or root causes. It is those indirect, systemic causes for which changes can actually make meaningful change. As Hopkins describes, the latent conditions (poor design, gaps in supervision, maintenance failures, shortfalls in training, etc. etc.), if not corrected, will eventually “combine with local circumstances and active failures to penetrate the system’s many layers of defences.”

Blame the Worker: It is always convenient for management, and in this case even governments, to ignore the latent conditions described above, and blame workers for incidents. And the bigger the disaster, the greater the temptation to find and easy and convenient scapegoat. So before we explore this disaster, let’s look at the concept of blame the worker.

First, it is indisputable that Harding set too few hand brakes. But as Hopkins points out,

human beings inevitably make errors and errors by operators must be expected. Thus, rather than focusing on the operators who make the errors, modern accident analysis looks for the conditions which make the errors possible. It is nearly always the case that there was a whole series of contributory factors which created an operator error and set up the situation which made the error critical. Accident analyses which aim to prevent a recurrence seek to identify these factors. From this perspective, errors are seen as consequence rather than principal causes.

And if the focus in on “blame” instead of “why” and the blame starts and stops with a worker who made a mistake, then the real causes of the incident will never be identified, never addressed and the same thing will eventually happen again.

So let’s start looking at principal causes.

Layers of Protection: Also known as “defense in depth” or “safety redundancy,” in its simplest explanation having more than one way to keep a catastrophic even from occurring so that a “single-point failure” does not lead to catastrophic consequence . Ideally, these layers of protection should be independent of each other, so that the failure of one does not mean the failure of any others. Harding’s train, for example, had three brake systems: the hand brakes which were set on each individual car, the locomotive air brake (also known as the independent brake), which secures the locomotives and the automatic brake holds the rail cars in place. Harding set seven hand brakes and also set the independent brake. This was enough to hold the train when Harding was told to leave for the evening. But during the fire, the engine was shut down to keep it from leaking any more flammable oil into the flames. The problem was that without engine power, the independent brake gradually lost power and the hand brakes weren’t enough to hold the train on the hill. The train began to descend down the track, eventually speeding up to 65 mph into Lac-Mégantic, where it derailed. Harding was accused of not setting enough hand brakes on each car to keep the train from rolling down a hill.

But the Toronto Globe and Mail, which looked deeper into the incident noticed something important in the TSB report:

On page 105 of the 179-page report, a single paragraph suggests the accident “likely” would have been avoided had the air brakes on the rail cars (the automatic brake) been set as a backup safety precaution before the train was left unattended. However, Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) instructed its staff not to use the automatic brakes.Transport Canada [which regulates and oversees Canadian railroads) either didn’t notice this practice or saw no problem with it.

Specifically, the TSB report said that “While MMA instructions did not allow the automatic brakes to be set following a proper hand brake effectiveness test, doing so would have acted as a temporary secondary defence, one that likely would have kept the train secured, even after the eventual release of the independent brakes.”

And why did MMA instructions not allow the automatic brake to be set? According to the Globe,

because air needs to be pumped back into the brake line in order to reset the system and get the automatic brakes on each car to release, it can sometimes take from 15 minutes to an hour to get a train moving again once it’s been parked.For this reason, some railways don’t like using the automatic air brakes as an added assurance or backup to the hand brakes, because it can cost time and money, the rail industry expert said.

It is far-fetched to think the automatic brake wouldn’t have played a direct role in preventing the accident, the person said. “This common sense, 10-second procedure has been used to secure rail cars for the last hundred years,” the rail industry source said.

When the Globe asked the TSB why this important finding was buried in the report, the TSB responded that “it didn’t want to distract from the main point that trains should be secured with the correct number of hand brakes.”

But that’s not all. The locomotive involved in the Lac Mégantic incident should have had yet another fail-safe device. The locomotive was equipped with a reset safety control (RSC) which activates alarms and then applies a penalty brake if the train begins to run away, even when the engine is shut down. Unfortunately, MMA had rewired the RSC incorrectly and did not stop the train when it began to run away.

Run to Failure Maintenance: You may not change a light bulb until it burns out or change the washers on your faucet until it starts leaking, but if you’re running a refinery, steel mill — or a railroad — just letting things break down before you fix them isn’t a very safe way to operate. High reliability organizations have strong preventive maintenance programs and a major element of OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard is “Mechanical Integrity,” which aims to prevent catastrophic incident by ensuring that procedures are implemented to prevent incidents through the proper maintenance of equipment. In this case, the lead locomotive was in terrible shape. Several months before, it has been to the repair shop. Instead of a lengthy standard repair, the company decided to essentially glue it back together with an epoxy-like material that lacked the required strength and durability of a permanent repair. The TSB report called this “a non-standard and less costly method” of repair. The night of July 5, the lead locomotive broke down on a hill above Lac-Mégantic. The Globe noted that “MMA, which declared bankruptcy after the derailment, had a reputation as one of the most aggressive cost-cutters in the rail industry.”

Profit: Even after the fire started, MMA did not call Harding, the Lead Engineer, back to the train to start another engine “due to the impact that it would have on train departure time the following morning and due to mandatory rest provisions.”

Normalization of Deviance: Normalization of deviance or of abnormality occurs when people become accustomed to violations of procedures or small incidents that don’t result in catastrophe. In this case, the official procedure was to perform a “handbrake effectiveness test” to confirm that the handbrakes alone could hold the train. This was supposed to be performed by releasing the independent brake to see if the hand brakes alone would hold the train. Harding did not release the independent brake when performing the test. The Globe speculated that the absence of previous problems may have been taken as an indicator of future success. Other MMA Lead Engineers also did not release the independent brakes when securing trains, which is indicative that poor train securement practices were not isolated to this accident.

The TSB report that in previous cases, Harding had also not set the officially required number of brakes, but nothing bad had happened. The report suggested that “The absence of previous problems may have been taken as an indicator of future success.”

But Wasn’t The Engineer Still At Fault?

OK, even with all of that, Harding did not set enough brakes. Why didn’t he set the correct number of brakes and why shouldn’t he be convicted? Let’s keep looking at other factors that led to the incident.

Training: The TSB report named “weaknesses in the process for ensuring adequate employee training” as one of the crucial indicators that MMS did not have a functioning safety management system. More specifically, the report found that “Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway did not provide effective training or oversight to ensure that crews understood and complied with rules governing train securement. ”

One of the reasons training was important is that figuring out how many hand brakes to set was complicated — too complicated for me to explain here, but go ahead and read the report if you’re really interested. To simplify, the number of handbrakes that had to be set was a function of the total number of cars, how many of them were loaded, the weather conditions, and the grade of the track. Each rail company in Canada had slightly different rules for how many hand brakes had to be set.

The engineer set the air brakes on the locomotive an 7 brakes on the individual cars. According to MMS procedures, the basic formula was 10% of the cars plus 2, which meant he should have set 9 brakes . But “TSB testing showed that this number would not have provided sufficient retarding force to hold the train once the air pressure in the independent brake system was reduced.” In fact, the TSB concluded that, depending on various scenarios, the engineer would have needed to apply between 12 and 26 hand brakes in order to hold the train.

The TSB report speculated that Harding

was not fully conversant with relevant rules and special instructions on train securement. Although the LE’s results from his requalification tests indicated that he had correctly answered questions relating to the minimum number of hand brakes, these questions were relatively simple and did not demonstrate that the LE possessed knowledge of the significance and rationale behind the rules. Furthermore, the LE was never tested on the procedures for performing a hand brake effectiveness test, nor did the company’s Operational Tests and Inspections (OTIS) Program confirm that hand brake effectiveness tests were being conducted correctly. In addition, the LE did not have all of the required documents with him on board the train, and could not easily refer to rules and company instructions.

Rail employees were required to pass re-certification exams every three years. According to the TSB report, the multiple choice re-qualification exam “repeated the same question on the minimum number of hand brakes for leaving unattended equipment. They did not have questions on the hand brake effectiveness test, the conditions requiring application of more than the minimum number of hand brakes, nor the stipulation that air brakes cannot be relied upon to prevent an undesired movement.” Hopkins notes that this type of “competency based training” just allows for specific knowledge of procedures, but does not test for understanding of the process.

So in summary, determining how many hand brakes to set is complicated, training is problematic, re-certification exams don’t test for competency or understanding of the whole complex process of securing a train.

Single Person Train Operation (SPTO): Harding, as mentioned above was the Lead Engineer, and also the lone crew member on the giant 72 car train. SPTO is permitted in Canada, and although the TSB could not find any evidence that SPTO led to the incident, they did describe some of the problems with it:

There are also demonstrated risks to SPTO, including reduced joint compliance (which can help catch errors), a tendency to take shortcuts, additional physical and time-related requirements for a single person to perform tasks, the possibility that individuals working alone will be subject to fatigue and cognitive degradations, and the need for additional training to properly prepare Lead Engineers (LEs) to work alone. It is also important to consider how a single operator might deal with the abnormal conditions that may arise, as well as whether all safety-critical tasks (such as the application of hand brakes and the performance of a hand brake effectiveness test) can be performed in a reasonable amount of time.

The TSB also noted that “The minimum hand brake requirement was more consistently met when trains were operated by 2 crew members.” Finally, the reported noted that although TC Canada (the regulatory agency) had required that MMA conduct a risk assessment of SPTO, “TC did not follow up to verify that the mitigation measures identified in MMA’s risk assessment had been implemented and were effective.”

Would another crew member on board the train have made a difference? Would two heads have been better than one in determining the correct number of hand brakes? If there were two crew members at the hotel, would one of them been able to return to the train and realize that another engine needed to be started to secure the air brakes? Who knows?

Megantic worker
TSB Findings
Oversight: The TSB report also criticized the railroad’s regulatory body, TC Canada’s (and more specifically TC Quebec’s), for weak oversight of MMA, despite the fact that “for several years, MMA had been identified as a railway company with an elevated level of risk requiring more frequent inspections.” TC Canada had identified several repeated problems in the past, including problems with train securement (identified on multiple occasions since 2005), , and were still present at the time of the accident, training deficiencies, and problems with track conditions. And “TC Quebec Region did not follow up to ensure that recurring safety deficiencies at MMA were effectively analyzed and corrected; consequently, unsafe practices persisted.”

The Other Rail Employees

In addition to Harding, rail traffic controller (RTC) Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre also face 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death. Labrie was the main rail employee that Harding communicated with that night. According to the TSB report, Labrie

was aware that no locomotive was left running. “However, he knew that train securement should not be dependent on a running locomotive, and assumed that the train had been adequately secured with sufficient hand brakes. Without a compelling cue to the contrary, the RTC did not consider that shutting down the locomotives would affect the securement of the train.

RTC’s are a also a critical component of safe Single Person Train Operation (SPTO) — the lone engineer is supposed to be in frequent contact with the RTC. But the report also noted serious shortcomings in implementation of SPTO safety procedures:

The SPTO training did not include a review of securement rules and instructions. Furthermore, no job task analysis was discussed with employees, nor were all of the potential hazards associated with the tasks identified, notably the risks associated with single-operator train securement at the end of a shift. Consequently, no mitigation measure was identified for this critical task, such as confirming with an RTC how a train was secured, or even questioning the practice of leaving a train on the main track in Nantes when securement relied on a single operator.

Furthermore, although MMS had a process where supervisors could conduct unannounced monitoring of employees for adherence to railway safety rules and instructions. But no such inspection had ever occurred to ensure proper train securement in the area of Lac Megantic. Labrie reported to Demaitre, the manager of train operations.


OK, I could go on and on about addition issues that the TSB report raises (tank care integrity, track condition, lack of audits, and on and on), but I think we’ve discussed enough. What we have here in a nutshell is a railroad that cut corners on safety and maintenance wherever it could, a lousy training program for a very complicated, safety sensitive operation. and an oversight agency that didn’t do very good oversight.

In other words, only the most superficial analysis of this horrible tragedy would conclude that Tom Harding, the Lead Engineer and sole crew member, should be blamed for the deaths of 47 people, dragged into jail, prosecuted and possibly sent to prison for the rest of his life. It may make some people feel good, and it may take the blame off of others. But it will do nothing to prevent future catastrophes.

That’s no way to run a railroad.

More information on the Campaign to Defend the Lac-Mégantic workers here.

Support the scapegoated Lac-Mégantic rail workers! All our safety and health depends upon it.
Donate now!

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admin August 5, 2017Uncategorized
Safe Rail and Sustainable Communities
Music Benefit for Lac-Mégantic Rail Worker Defense a great success!
Over $1700 raised kicking off fund drive for defense of the scapegoated rail workers and fighting for safe rails everywhere.
Get an event together in your community. Join the fight for the true story about the causes of the Lac-Mégantic wreck.
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admin July 12, 2017Uncategorized
Music for Rail Safety
On the night of July 6th, 2013, dozens of family members and neighbors gathered at a great little music club called the Musi-Cafe at the town center to hear bands.

In the blink of an eye almost all of them were incinerated by the explosion and fiery inferno resulting from a wrecked train of mislabeled volatile Bakken oil. The next day this is what the Musi-Cafe looked like.

In the aftermath, the railroad and the government has sought to blame the employees for the natural result of the combined reckless work rules and policies that undercut safety and even basic common sense.

Tomorrow, Sunday, July 9th, crowds of rail supporters will gather at the Dew Drop Inn in DC to hear bands. The music, happy hour, food and good times will be great. Every railroader deserves and could use that kind of good time.

But that good time will be for a purpose that will impact all of our futures. The threats we must face include under funding, destruction of infrastructure, risky work schedules, cram down work contracts, cuts to Railroad Retirement and the list continues.

Remember Lac-Mégantic but fight like hell so it never happens in another town. Fight for a rail bypass of the town of Lac-Mégantic because the railroad and government have completely failed them and they deserve relief.

The wrong men are on trial this fall. Justice for Lac-Mégantic AND rail safety going forwards requires real accountability for dangerous railroad manager policies.

Please donate and build local support for the defense.

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admin July 8, 2017Uncategorized
Music Benefit for Safe Rails and Sustainable Communities
A fundraiser to benefit the defense of the scapegoated
Lac-Mégantic Rail Workers

Featuring the U-Liners

with Tom & Elisabeth

4 years after the devastating oil train wreck that destroyed the town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, two railroad workers face criminal charges for a tragedy caused by unsafe railroad management policies.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

6:30 pm-8:15 pm

Dew Drop Inn

2801 8th St NE (below Franklin St)

Washington DC

Suggested donation: $20 (please contribute what you can)

Proceeds support the Lac-Mégantic Rail Workers Defense

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admin July 3, 2017Uncategorized
Summer of Solidarity and Rail Safety
How many more have to die?
July 6th this year marks four years since a runaway train carrying volatile Bakken crude crashed and burned in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 and destroying half the town. It’s time to recommit to making sure tragedies like this don’t happen again. It’s also the right time to speak up against the criminal trial beginning September 11th this year, that unfairly and inaccurately hangs the Lac-Mégantic crash on two railroad workers, Tom Harding and Richard Labrie.

Railroad managers push hard to squeeze every dollar they can out of every train run. The Lac-Mégantic train had a dangerous cargo, overlong train, defective equipment, a single crew-member and work rules that cut the margin of safety down to just about zero. The result was a disaster that still impacts the Lac-Mégantic community.

Multiple government safety investigations and independent journalists looked at what happened in Lac-Mégantic and came to the same conclusion. Railroad management policies made this kind of runaway train crash likely to happen sooner or later. Lax government oversight looked the other way until it did.

You would think that four years later there would be stronger safety regulations on every railroad, with extra layers of protection for dangerous cargo. Sadly, this is not the case. Railroad policymakers are still cutting corners and government regulators are still looking the other way. They want people to believe that the big safety problem is a few careless railroad workers. But in Lac-Mégantic, SINCE the wreck, the supposedly safely restored wreck curve has now deteriorated and keeps that community at risk. Everyone there tightens up when a train passes now.

Even after all the reports and exposes, the Canadian and Quebec governments are still not going after the railroad policy makers and their unsafe policies. The managers who made the critical policies will not even get a slap on the wrist. That’s just wrong, and it guarantees that the danger continues. Every year since the crash, the number of reported runaway trains in Canada has increased. That’s a sign of a reckless culture, not the actions of two rail-road workers one night in Quebec.

Whether your main issue is the environment, community safety, rail safety, or worker’s rights, it comes down to stronger government regulations and stronger railroad safety policies, with real community and labor enforcement. The two railroad workers were not the cause of the Lac-Mégantic crash or any of the runaway trains since then. They are not the ones still running trains right through the town of Lac-Mégantic, ignoring the demands of the survivors for a simple rail bypass. The people in Lac-Mégantic know that sending Harding and Labrie to prison won’t address any of their problems with the railroad. But if that happens, you can bet the government will close the book as the official verdict on Lac-Mégantic and railroad management will be standing there with them.

When you hold public commemorations this year, we ask you to make this point your way. Blaming Harding and Labrie for the Lac-Mégantic tragedy weakens all of us and all our causes. So all of us have to speak up.

Donate now to help ensure a vigorous and fair legal defense
Justice for Lac-Mégantic requires Dropping the Charges Against Harding & Labrie
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admin July 3, 2017Uncategorized
September 13th: Thousands petition to Drop the Charges Against Harding and Labrie


September 13, 2016, supporters representing over 2200 petitioners from across North America attended court proceedings in Sherbrooke QC, calling for the dropping of criminal charges against Harding and Labrie and prosecution of the policy makers and real culprits responsible for the Lac-Mégantic train wreck in 2o13.

Almost 2800 petition signers, including public officials, rail safety activists, community activists as well as labor union members in rail and other industries ultimately took part in the campaign for justice, rail safety and real accountability for the tragedy. Petitions were delivered to representatives of the Crown prosecutors at the hearing and continued to be delivered as they came in into October.

The September 13th hearing set the date and scope for the criminal trial phase, beginning September 11, 2017.

Prosecutors in the case face mounting public dissent concerning the scapegoating of Harding and Labrie as well as legal challenges due to the maneuvers of the bankrupt Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railroad (MMA). The policy decision makers of the MMA who are now known to have directed the actions that led to the wreck are free of charge and operating rail operations elsewhere including in the United States.


Supporters to Demand “Drop the Charges – Focus on Rail Safety” at Court Hearing on Lac-Mégantic Tragedy

Committee will deliver thousands of petitions calling for the Canadian and Quebec authorities to drop the charges against railroad workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie

For Immediate Release: Thursday, September 8, 2016

Contact: Fritz Edler,, (202) 494-3848

Time: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Place: Palais de Justice, 375 Rue King Ouest (corner of King and Belvédère), Sherbrooke, QC

(Sherbrooke, QC)-Representatives of the Harding and Labrie Defense Committee, Railroad Workers United (RWU) and community allies from the Lac Mégantic area will be at the procedural hearings at the Palais de Justice in Sherbrooke, QC on September 13th, 2016 carrying petitions signed by over 2000 people across North America calling for ending the prosecution of Canadian railworkers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie. Harding and Labrie have been targeted and charged under the Criminal Code as well as the Railroad Safety Act and other laws. The charges could result in prison terms up to life.

“Investigations have already determined that the actions of these two were not the predominate cause the Lac-Mégantic tragedy,” said Committee representative Fritz Edler, a 35-year veteran train engineer. “The runaway train that killed 47 and destroyed half the town was the result of railroad managerial irresponsibility compounded by a failure of government oversight and safety regulation. There was a lax safety culture that has to change.”

The irresponsible practice of sending out unit trains of the most volatile kind with only a single crew member illustrates the disregard for public safety by the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railroad (MMA) whose most important policymakers have had no legal penalty.

“The number of runaway trains reported across Canada has increased every year since Lac­ Mégantic,” Edler added. “It’s no wonder the people of Lac Mégantic have no confidence in the current actions of the railroad companies or the government agencies to keep them safe, and are calling for the tracks to detour around the town rather than run through it.”

Supporters will gather at 9 am on September 13th in the Palais de Justice Square in Sherbrooke to present the petitions. After the procedural hearing, Harding’s legal defense team will update supporters on the latest developments in the case.


The Harding and Labrie Defense Committee was formed in 2015 to organize defense for Canadian Rail Steelworkers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie; who have been scapegoated for the tragic Lac-Mégantic trainwreck in 2013. Facts developed since the wreck by investigators for the Government and independent journalists make clear that railroad policies were responsible for creating the culture of negligence that led to that disaster.

Railroad Workers United (RWU) is a North American cross-craft solidarity and advocacy organization of railworkers and their supporters. RWU members and supporters on railroads across North America are monitoring the Harding/Labrie case closely. RWU believes jailing Harding and Labrie will be an obstacle to current day safety culture on Canada’s railways, as well as a roadblock to getting full accountability for the Mégantic wreck.

For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @harding_labrie

admin September 9, 2016Uncategorized0
Two Weeks – Two Fronts in Fight for Rail Safety
June 20 – Drop the Charges July 6th – No More Lac-Mégantics

Three years ago, on July 6, 2013, a small town in Quebec became a symbol of the need for greater focus on rail safety throughout North America. A runaway Bakken oil train exploded and burned in the downtown. 47 people were killed immediately and another 3 have taken their own lives in the last three years in the devastating aftermath which has left a legacy of destruction and environmental damage which will never be truly overcome.

The Lac-Mégantic tragedy will be back in the news twice in a matter of weeks. The Citizens Coalition in Lac-Mégantic has called for July 6th this year to be a day of remembrance for the victims of the crash and a day to recommit to greater rail safety. Railroad workers, environmental activists and other community groups concerned about railroad safety will express their solidarity by answering that call and take time out on July 6th to say No More Lac-Mégantics. Railroad Workers United will join with others on July 6th in Chicago for a special forum on rail safety centered on the issues raised in Lac-Mégantic. Actions are underway in other cities as well.

This commemoration will come just two weeks after the latest events in a legal battle that should have ended long ago – the drive to scapegoat railroad workers and let unsafe railroad policies off the hook.

Everybody wanted to know what was responsible for the tragedy. People called for a complete and thorough investigation to determine the facts and the guilty parties. But the Canadian government jumped the gun and theatrically charged the engineer, Tom Harding, and his dispatcher, Richard Labrie with 47 counts of criminal negligence resulting in death.

Ultimately investigation by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board and courageous investigative reporters turned up serious evidence that laid the responsibility for the crash at the feet of decisions and policies of the railroad company, the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA). These unsafe corporate policies and decisions had been ignored or even endorsed by the Canadian regulators responsible for overseeing rail safety.

The evidence is now very clear. The actions of Engineer Tom Harding and dispatcher Richard Labrie DID NOT cause the Lac-Mégantic wreck. If the MMA hadn’t imposed unsafe procedures on its train crews, with Transport Canada regulators looking the other way, there would not have been a runaway train and explosion in Lac-Mégantic.

The MMA was not the only party taking shortcuts. On June 20th this year, Tom Harding’s lawyer is going to court to address the Canadian government’s rush to judgement. Crown Prosecutors used loopholes to avoid holding a Preliminary Hearing, which would have given the defendants an opportunity to challenge the supposed evidence and preview the theory of the prosecution. A Preliminary Hearing would have been normal in most proceedings of this kind. Harding’s lawyer is now forced to present a motion for “Disclosure”, as well as a motion to “Stay the Proceedings”, based in part on the denial of Harding’s right to a Preliminary Hearing. Even if the Court grants Harding’s defense motions (the Crown has filed motions to “quash” them) it will not be the end of the need for us to use every means to get out the word about this wrongful prosecution going forward.

If railroading Tom Harding and Richard Labrie to prison wasn’t bad enough, the Canadian government has blocked the efforts of the Citizens Coalition of Lac-Mégantic to move the railroad tracks from the center of town and to make real rail safety a top priority going forward. The government wants to narrow the issue to oil trains and declare the danger over. But rail safety is not just about unsafe cargo. The people who live by the tracks and those who run the trains must be party to determining whether safe conditions are maintained.

The Canadian government must stop the prosecution of railroad workers for a tragedy they did not cause, and they and the U.S. government must speed up addressing unsafe railroad practices and conditions in Lac-Mégantic and everywhere. Every Railroad worker and everyone who cares about railroad safety has a stake in the outcome of this. We all need to be watching what happens in the courtroom on June 20th and be prepared to stand up for rail safety on July 6th.

Drop the Charges – No More Lac-Mégantics
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admin June 17, 2016Uncategorized
Sign the Petition!
Drop the Charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie

Target: The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and the Honourable Stéphanie Vallée, Minister of Justice, QC