A Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway engineer walks toward a switch on a track near Nantes - Date unknown John Kenney.
10 July 2013
Evolving Statements Muddy
MMA's Position on Disaster
Lake Megantic Quebec - Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway's account of events surrounding the derailment and explosion of its train in Lake Megantic in the early hours of Saturday has continued to evolve in the disaster's aftermath. Here is what company executives have said in their own words:
In a statement released Sunday, the company said: "While the governmental investigation of the accident's cause has largely prevented MMA from completing its own investigation, one fact that has emerged is the locomotive of the oil train parked at Nantes station was shut down subsequent to the departure of the engineer who had handled the train from Farnham, which may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place. As mentioned above, we don't have complete information concerning this incident, but will cooperate with government authorities as they continue their investigation."
In an interview with The Gazette Sunday night, MMA executive Yves Bourdon said an employee returned to where the company's train was parked in Nantes as local firefighters were putting out a fire in one of the locomotives, possibly caused by a ruptured diesel fuel line. He could not say what verifications were done after the fire was out, before the train rolled down hill, and exploded in Lake Megantic.
Edward Burkhardt, the chairman of MMA, told The Gazette on Monday that he is certain the runaway train was tampered with: "We have evidence of this. But this is an item that needs further investigation. We need to talk to some people we believe to have knowledge of this. We want to know what they know. There are a number of missing pieces here but we'd like to have a complete idea about the cause. We are prepared to go in and do this very quickly, as soon as we can gain access to people and to the site."
Later that same day, Burkhardt suggested to The Globe and Mail that firefighters responding to the blaze aboard one of MMA's locomotives in the hours before it slammed into Lake Megantic, were to blame for the train breaking loose: "They went out there by themselves, shut the engine off, doused the fire. A very small fire," he said in an interview from Chicago.
Also Monday, Burkhardt told La Presse that the firefighters in Nantes may have played a role. "I don't know how much time passed between the intervention of the firefighters on our convoy and the moment we were informed the locomotive had been shut off. In any case, once we knew, it was too late. The train had already hit Lake Megantic, before we could send someone to put the brakes back on."
On Tuesday, Bourdon told Paul Arcand on 98.5 FM that off-duty engineer Tom Harding was asleep in his Lake Megantic hotel early Saturday when he was woken up by the explosion. Bourdon said Harding actually pitched in by going to get a tractor and helped release more tanker cars: "When he heard the explosion and heard what had happened he released the coupling and pulled off nine wagons. If not, if those nine wagons had stayed there, there was a possibility with all the heat that was there and all, of other explosions and also fire," Bourdon said. Arcand expressed surprise that this is the first anyone was hearing about the employee's heroism. "He's a very conscientious person," Bourdon said. "He was asleep and once he heard the explosion and looked outside he went immediately there and offered his services to firefighters. No one has talked about it yet, but I'm talking about it."
Also Tuesday, Burkhardt told a Radio-Canada reporter in Chicago that MMA employees might have made mistakes, but insisted his company should not be blamed for the disaster. For the first time he said two different MMA employees, not engineer Tom Harding, were called by firefighters responding to the fire in one of the locomotives parked in Nantes. Burkhardt said neither of the two employees knew that cutting the motor on the locomotive would shut off the air brakes. He added those employees "should have known.". When asked by the reporter if he felt guilty, Burkhardt replied "No."
On Tuesday evening, Burkhardt, arriving at Trudeau airport from Chicago, said a combination of factors was to blame for the derailment, including the lack of a MMA engineer on site after the locomotive fire, as well as the actions of local firefighters in Nantes.
On Wednesday afternoon, Burkhardt, at a press conference in Lake Megantic, said he no longer believes the MMA employee on duty early Saturday who said he applied 11 hand brakes to the locomotives.