Backers hit continued prosecution of Lac Megantic rail workers

Backers of the two Steelworker-represented rail workers charged in connection with the fiery freight train crash that wrecked Lac Megantic, Quebec, more than four years ago, blasted the Canadian government for its continued prosecution of train engineer Tom Harding and tower dispatcher Richard Labrie. Backers say the government should tackle all the causes.

 

A Canadian jury acquitted the two late in January. Evidence showed a combination of company negligence, lack of Quebec provincial oversight and Canada’s decision to allow 1-person crews on freight trains caused the disaster.

 

An oil freight train, parked on an uphill siding above the Quebec town, broke loose due to badly maintained brakes, headed downhill at high speed, derailed, crashed and blew up. The explosion leveled Lac Megantic’s downtown and killed 47 people.

 

It also gave an added shove to campaigns by rank-and-file rail workers and their unions, led by the Teamsters and the Smart Transportation Division, to have the U.S. government require 2-person crews and other safety measures on all freight trains. Railroads are agitating for 1-person crews and a BNSF executive has come out in favor of crewless freights.

 

Railroad Workers United, the rank-and-file group which includes Smart members, Teamsters and other unionists, reported the demand that Canadian Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould drop the charges against Harding and Labrie. “It’s time to focus on rail safety,” backers of Harding and Labrie said.

Veteran train engineer and wreck investigator Fritz Edler, the Harding-Labrie Defense Committee spokesman, hoped the focus of the Lac Megantic crash would shift to a “full-scale investigation of the many factors behind it.”

 

“We have been waiting over four years for an actual public inquiry into the causes of this tragedy,” he said. The crash was in July 2013.

 

But the Canadian government insists on prosecuting the two again. This time, they’ll appear in court on Feb. 5 on potential federal criminal charges. The Quebec jury acquitted them of criminal charges there.

 

“A criminal trial is the absolute worst way to uncover all the actions and policies that contributed to this crash,” said Edler. “The Canadian Transport Safety Board (TSB) identified 18 causal factors. The two rail workers had no part at all in almost all of them.” The provincial trial judge wouldn’t let lawyers for the two men submit the report, but the jury backed Harding and Labrie anyway.

 

The TSB report “should have told the government to look way beyond two rail workers to the part played by management policies and government oversight,” Edler said. “This is a life and death issue. There are still runaway trains and wrecks in 2018. Many of these same risk factors are operating right now. That should be the government’s main focus.”

Source: PAI