In the early hours of July 6, 2013, a parked Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway train’s brakes failed. Crewed by a single person, the train was carrying oil cars and derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic. The resulting explosion killed 47 people and the downtown was completely destroyed.
Three railway workers were dragged through the courts with charges that would have resulted in life in prison. However, after a high profile trial, a jury exonerated them. Meanwhile, the MM&A’s multi-millionaire CEO Ed Burkhardt faced no criminal charges. No single executive or manager has faced any consequences for this deadly corporate disaster.
With minimal public oversight, lax safety regulations, and deteriorating working conditions, railway workers and their unions have long fought against this corporate onslaught. This includes resisting crew size reductions, the emergence of single-man crews, fatigue, and lack of safety protocols. However, rail operators and governments have consistently put profits first.
Cost-cutting in the quest for profits is the name of the game in the privatized railway industry. The consequences are deadly. None of the people who run these corporations have faced justice for the accident deaths at Lac-Mégantic. The Harper Conservative government refused to hold a public inquiry. Elected two years later, the Trudeau government did nothing either.
Researcher Bruce Campbell exposed in his book “The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied” how the disaster is the result of an industry whose regulatory body, the Transportation Safety Board, is in bed with the rail operators. This is what is called “regulatory capture” and it exists in many other vital industries from mining to long-term care.
Public ownership of the railways is long overdue. The private operators have proven themselves incapable of putting public and worker safety first.
Rankandfile.ca recommends union members and residents of any town with railways buy a copy of Bruce Campbell’s book. Read his ten-year anniversary reflection on the Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster. You can also watch this 30-minute video of Bruce Campbell at a book launch event in Seattle: