Why Are Railway Conditions Not a
Matter of National Concern?
— Pierre Chénier —
A train derailed in the village of Nantes, Quebec on August 24, just 12.9 kilometres from the town of Lac-Mégantic. Six years ago from the same village of Nantes, an unmanned train began rolling downhill into Lac-Mégantic, its 72 cars carrying 7.7 million litres of flammable liquids, eventually derailing in the heart of Lac-Mégantic. The resulting massive explosion and fire killed 47 people and destroyed more than 40 buildings. The destruction forced 2,000 people from their homes and closed numerous businesses. The loss to the town, beyond the human toll, has been estimated at $1.5 billion.
According to the Mayor of Nantes, the August 24 train derailment is at least the third one in the area since the 2013 tragedy. Just ten days before the August 24 incident, the Lac-Mégantic Coalition of Citizens and Organizations Committed to Railway Safety had raised the alarm with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada that necessary repairs at the exact location of the derailment had not been done.
The coalition says the lack of maintenance is commonplace throughout the entire Estrie region of Québec. It states that the company — Central Maine and Quebec Railway — does whatever it wants with impunity. Just one hour before the August 24 derailment, it points out, another train hauling 30 tank cars transporting sulfuric acid, gasoline, propane gas and bitumen passed over the same tracks where repairs are needed.
The Transportation Safety Board gave notice to the rail company last April of a total of 253 track anomalies to be repaired. Transport Canada issued a compliance order on May 7, yet the repairs had not been completed by the date of the August derailment.
For various reasons, the stretch of railway going through Lac-Mégantic is considered one of the most dangerous in Canada. At least one local mayor claims that the heart of the problem is not location or geography but a human one. Namely, that the human factor is negated and that governments have permitted railway companies to be self-regulating. Many decry a situation where the railways act with utter disregard for the human toll within an atmosphere of anarchy, anti-consciousness and impunity.
An example of this impunity can be found in the attitude of the Transportation Safety Board regarding the latest derailment in Nantes. It refuses to inquire any further into the incident because no injuries were reported and no dangerous material was spilled. So the people must suffer in the manner of Lac-Mégantic for the authorities to even notice a problem with the condition of the railway! This is the anti-human factor/anti-social consciousness in control of people’s lives and security, a dangerous contradiction between conditions and authority. The time is now for a new direction!
Pierre Chénier is Secretary of the Workers’ Centre of the MLPC and its candidate in Châteauguay—Lacolle.