In the News
Residents Continue to Demand Safe Rail Bypass in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec
Hold Governments to Account!
From January 21 to February 4, 2022, Transport Canada held a public consultation on the Lac-Mégantic rail bypass project. The bypass is intended to end the passage of trains through downtown Lac-Mégantic through a new track traveling through the municipalities of Nantes, Lac-Mégantic, and Frontenac. The bypass has been a long-standing demand of the people of Lac-Mégantic since the train tragedy of July 6, 2013.
On that terrible night, a train carrying highly flammable oil — falsely labeled as lightly flammable — derailed, caught fire and exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic, causing the death of 47 people, serious injuries to numerous others and severe post-traumatic stress for the population, as well as very extensive property damage.
In 2018, the governments of Canada and Quebec formally committed to the construction of the railway. The federal government is to fund 60 per cent of construction costs, and the Quebec government 40 per cent. The project is being led by Canadian Pacific (CP), which is currently on trial in Sherbrooke to determine its responsibility for the July 6 tragedy when it was one of the main actors in the cargo’s transportation. In December 2019, CP purchased the U.S.-based Central Maine & Quebec Railway (CMQR), which had acquired the U.S.-based Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MMA) in 2014, and which owned the rail line on which the train derailed on the night of the tragedy. MMA was bankrupt at the time it was acquired by CMQR. Canadian Pacific is now in charge of the bypass project and will own it when it is completed. According to Transport Canada, construction of the bypass is expected to begin in 2022.
Since the beginning, the Coalition of Citizens and Organizations Committed to Railway Safety in Lac-Mégantic has expressed its grave concern about CP Rail, which has always denied its responsibility in the tragedy, being placed in charge of the project and becoming the owner of the railway track.
A spokesperson for the coalition stated; “I want to remind current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers that the bypass project was originally intended primarily to ensure the recovery and safety of the population of the Lac-Mégantic region. This infrastructure project was intended to promote the social healing of a community shattered by the neglect of previous governments and not to gratuitously satisfy the operational needs of a wealthy railway company like CP. Currently, we have no information on the timeline for the completion of the bypass. There’s talk about it being completed in 2023, but the land has yet to be acquired and the plans and specifications have not even been drawn up. What we want is transparency.”
The Coalition participated in the Transport Canada consultation, putting forward its concerns and demands.
In a February 1 article in the region’sweekly publication L’Écho de Frontenac, Coalition spokesperson Robert Bellefleur wrote:
“Dear elected members, good evening. Upon reading the first report placed online by Transport Canada on its website (Preliminary Operational Plan -Appendix 14 en) on page 6, we learn that the maximum descent slopes on this future bypass will be 1.20 per cent westward and 1.22 per cent eastward, for an average of 1.3 per cent with five major curves (eastward) and two to the west before crossing the future bridge over the Chaudière River. This is considerable for slopes involving these numerous, successive, more or less 4-degree curves.
“Furthermore, the third paragraph states that: ‘The speed limit on the main track from its intersection with the existing Moosehead Subdivision at Mile 113 to its intersection with the existing Sherbrooke Subdivision at Mile 3.49 will be 40 miles per hour with exceptions for trains operating under extreme weather conditions…’
“This affirmation implies that trains will pass at a speed of 40 miles per hour over the entire future bypass. And that’s on slopes varying between 1.20 per cent to 1.22 percent as they head into these major curves to the east and west before crossing the Chaudiere River bridge. With the transportation of dangerous goods (+ or – 30 tank cars of propane gas, automotive gasoline, sulphuric acid, sodium chlorate, etc. ) that have been regularly passing on the current railroad since 2014, at such a speed, we are greatly concerned about the residences located within 500 feet of the future bypass, as well as for Lac-Mégantic’s industrial park, particularly the Tafisa plant because of its huge piles of sawdust and exterior wood chips that are also located within 500 feet of the future bypass, where, let me remaind you, the trains will be running at 40 miles per hour without slowing down. There are also significant risks with regard to the further contamination of the Chaudière River.
“In addition, on page 8 of Appendix 14, para six reads: ‘These trains have a maximum design length up to 10,000 feet in both directions. The current average length of both trains is in range of 5000 feet.’ My understanding of this text is that a large percentage of the CP trains crossing the future bypass will be twice as long and twice as heavy as those currently running through Frontenac, Lac-Mégantic and Nantes. Will they also be carrying twice as much hazardous material? In these briefing documents, TC is silent about whether or not oil transportation will resuming through Lac-Mégantic and its immediate area.”
Bellefleur puts forth this important demand in the article:
“Taking into account this new information placed online by TC, the Citizens’ Coalition is asking municipal authorities to take the necessary steps to obtain a reduction of the maximum speed to 10 miles per hour along the entire route of the bypass traversing the three municipalities of Nantes, Frontenac and Lac-Mégantic, its industrial park, as well as the residential areas located within 500 feet of the future bypass. In the end, this means that we should obtain the same speed limit as is currently being applied on our municipal territories of 10 miles per hour, since the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. It’s a simple matter of safety and respect for a population still affected by the aftermath of the tragedy.”
Bellefleur concluded his article by reminding Transport Canada, CP and federal, Quebec and municipal elected officials of their responsibilities:
“As spokesperson for the Coalition of Citizens and Organizations Committed to Railway Safety in Lac-Mégantic, we are trying to obtain full answers to our questions, both from Transport Canada and CP. And above all, to obtain the opinion and the stand of our municipal elected officials of Lac-Mégantic, Nantes and Frontenac, as well as of our provincial and federal MPs, regarding these non-negligible risk factors for the population of our three municipalities impacted by the construction of this bypass road. Will we be heard this time? We hope so.”
Workers’ Forum firmly supports these stands of the coalition, which defend the interests of the affected communities as well as those of all communities in Quebec and Canada. This consultation must not be yet another opportunity to entrench the self-regulation of the rail industry that produced the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, under the pretext that people have now had their say and that it’s business as usual. The voice of the communities must be heard and their demands implemented. This is the first lesson that has been learned from the tragedy.
Our Security Lies in Our Fight for the Rights of All!
1. See Workers’ Forum, October 25, 2021.
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 9, 2022)