Workers Health & Safety Centre

USW sets up justice fund for rail workers charged in Lac-Mégantic tragedy

USW sets up justice fund for rail workers charged in Lac-Mégantic tragedy
United Steelworkers union has set up a legal defence fund to support rail workers facing criminal negligence charges in connection with the 2013 train derailment in Lac-Mégantic.
Train engineer Thomas Harding and railway traffic controller Richard Labrie have each been charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death. The two men made their first court appearance in May 2014 where according to the union “they were publicly paraded in handcuffs.” Manager of train operations Jean Demaitre was also charged but is not represented by the union.
Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic Railway (MMA), the railway company operating the derailed train that resulted in the deaths of 47 people, was charged as well. Former MMA owner and president, Ed Burkhardt was not placed in handcuffs.
Only the workers face criminal prosecution, which the union says is “a smokescreen to divert attention from the real culprits in this tragedy.” According USW’s Quebec director Daniel Roy, deregulation and poor management—not the workers on duty that night—were to blame for the tragedy.
The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada has a similar opinion. In a recent investigation TSB identified 18 distinct causes and contributing factors to the incident at Lac-Mégantic. The key findings are as follows:
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA)
  • Mechanical problems not remedied and inadequate engine repair prior to the trip,
  • Train left unattended on hill,
  • Improper hand brake test, insufficient number of  hand brakes, and leaking independent air brakes,
  • No additional safety defences,
  • Ineffective training, testing and supervision particularly regarding the operation of hand brakes and train securement,
  • Safety management system (SMS) not fully implemented to effectively manage risks,
  • Implementing single-person train operations,
  • Breached tank cars used to carry highly volatile petroleum crude oil,
  • Excessive train speed for track.

Transport Canada
  • Inadequate monitoring of operational changes,
  • Limited follow-up on safety deficiencies of MMA,
  • Ineffective safety management system (SMS) audit program.
As a result of these findings the TSB is now calling for additional physical defences to prevent runaway trains, and for more thorough audits of safety management systems to ensure railways are effectively managing safety.
In the meantime, the Steelworkers have launched the Justice for USW Rail Workers Fund in solidarity with the rail workers to ensure they have access to a full and complete defence.
“We are appealing to people’s generosity to help ensure that these workers are not made scapegoats,” says Roy.
Do you want to make a donation to the Justice for USW Rail Workers Fund?
Do you want more information on the USW campaign for justice?
Do you want to read Transport Canada’s report on the train derailment in Lac-Mégantic?