Lac-Me­gan­tic res­i­dents mark fourth an­niver­sary of rail tragedy in Que­bec town

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Four years after the rail dis­as­ter that killed 47 people in their town, a group of Lac-Me­gan­tic cit­i­zens re­newed the call for the con­struc­tion of a by­pass that would steer trains away from the core of the com­mu­nity.

Robert Belle­fleur, spokesman for a rail-safety group in the town, said Thurs­day his group is out­raged that Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and other politi­cians seem to accept that a by­pass might not be ready for years.

“What shocks the pop­u­la­tion, it’s to note that it’s po­lit­i­cally ac­cept­able... to wait un­til 2022 for a safer so­lu­tion for Lac-Me­gan­tic,” he told a news con­fer­ence.

The Que­bec and fed­eral gov­ern­ments have fi­nanced a fea­si­bil­ity study on the mat­ter, and the prov­ince’s en­vi­ron­men­tal review agency be­gan pub­lic hear­ings on the is­sue in May.

But Belle­fleur said dan­ger­ous goods con­tinue to be trans­ported through the town on a sec­tion of rail track that has been re­built with an even steeper curve than be­fore.

“What we want, the cit­i­zens’ coali­tion, is that we build the by­pass as quickly as pos­si­ble,” he said.

“We want an an­nounce­ment this sum­mer, and while we’re wait­ing for it to be built, we want them to fix this death curve.”

On July 6, 2013, a run­away train car­ry­ing crude oil from the United States de­railed in down­town Lac-Me­gan­tic and ex­ploded, killing 47 people and de­stroy­ing much of the city’s core.

To mark the an­niver­sary, the town planned a se­ries of low-key ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing a church ser­vice, an out­door vigil and an ac­tiv­ity at the town’s train sta­tion.

The dis­as­ter led to hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in clean-up and re­con­struc­tion costs as well as the bank­ruptcy of Mon­treal, Maine and At­lantic Rail­way, the com­pany that owned and op­er­ated the tracks.

Trudeau is­sued a state­ment Thurs­day to say “no com­mu­nity should ever ex­pe­ri­ence what Lac-Me­gan­tic went through.”

“I am com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that rail safety re­mains a top pri­or­ity,” he said.

But while pol­icy-mak­ers con­tinue to look for ways to im­prove rail safety, Lac-Me­gan­tic is well into the re­con­struc­tion process.

So­nia Du­mont, a spokes­woman for the town’s re­build­ing com­mit­tee, says con­struc­tion on sev­eral new projects, in­clud­ing a new park, pedes­trian walk­way and mul­ti­func­tional com­mu­nity space, will be­gin this fall.

The town is also de­vel­op­ing new “hu­man in­fra­struc­ture,” in­clud­ing a new greeters pro­gram where cit­i­zens act as guides for tourists.

Mean­while, three ex-rail­way em­ploy­ees are await­ing trial after plead­ing not guilty to 47 counts of crim­i­nal neg­li­gence caus­ing death stem­ming from the tragedy.

Their trial is to be held in Sher­brooke in­stead of LacMegan­tic and is set to last from Sept. 11 to Dec. 21.

Con­vic­tion on a charge of crim­i­nal neg­li­gence caus­ing death car­ries a max­i­mum penalty of life in prison.

Mon­treal Maine and At­lantic Rail­way was charged with the three men and has pleaded not guilty to sim­i­lar charges.

It will face a separate trial at a later date.

CP PHOTO

Smoke rises from rail­way cars that were car­ry­ing crude oil after de­rail­ing in down­town Lac-Me­gan­tic, Que., on July 6, 2013.

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