One person crews becomes focus of Lac-Megantic disaster trial

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An aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, following the July 2013 derailment and fire.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
SHERBROOKE, Quebec — The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic’s use of one-person crews in the months before the fatal Lac-Mégantic oil train wreck that killed 47 people has become the focus of the criminal trial for three former railroad employees.

Former MM&A engineer Thomas Harding, manager Jean Demaître, and dispatcher Richard Labrie have each been charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death and are standing trial in Sherbrooke, 60 miles west of Lac-Mégantic in southern Quebec.

A railroad expert hired by investigators and former a Quebec North Shore & Labrador employee, the only other freight railroad in Canada allowed to use single-person crews, testified that the remote ore railroad made dozens of changes before reducing crew sizes in the 1990s. Stephen Callaghan testified that he had been part of the committee that helped write up the rules for one-person operations at the QNS&L. At least 65 changes were made to QNS&L’s operational practices and each operating department employee got at least 10 days of training, including wilderness survival and first aid courses, as much of the QNS&L route north of the St. Lawrence River is through an extremely remote region of Quebec.

MM&A officials, on the other hand, only made one change, installing a mirror on the conductor’s side of the locomotive, prior to implementing single person crews, witnesses have testified at the trial that started early in October.

Callaghan, who was hired by law enforcement to help with the investigation, also testified that he inspected the doomed oil train at the request of police and found that only seven hand brakes had been applied, including on the five locomotives, one remote control caboose and a spacer car. In his opinion, however, it would have taken seven additional hand brakes, for a total of 14, to keep the train stationary after Harding parked the train west of Lac-Mégantic in July 2013.
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