13 June 2014
Just 7 Brakes Applied on 72-Car Train That Exploded in Lake Megantic
Nantes Quebec - Only seven hand brakes were applied on the 72-car, crude-oil-carrying train that derailed and exploded in Lake Megantic last July, QMI Agency has learned.
The finding is in court documents that provincial police prepared as part of their criminal investigation of Canada's deadliest railway explosion.
It's based on statements engineer Thomas Harding made a few hours after he left the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) train unattended in Nantes, Quebec, located near the Maine border.
The runaway train rolled 12 kilometres down a slope and hurtled into Lake Megantic before jumping the tracks.
The crash and explosion killed 47 people.
"He (Thomas Harding) mentions having stopped the train with air brakes," the document says.
"He left the locomotive and applied seven manual brakes."
An MMA instruction manual obtained during the investigation "states that there must be a minimum of nine manual brakes applied for a convoy of 70-79 cars," the court document says.
Most MMA engineers interviewed by police said they would apply between 10 and 15 brakes when parking their convoy in Nantes.
Steve Callahan, an independent expert hired by police, recommended applying 15 brakes.
"Taking into account the (train's) weight, the length and slope of the railway, the convoy should have had 15 cars with manual brakes activated," police quote Callahan as saying.
Investigators also focused on a fire in the train's locomotive while it was parked in Nantes.
The fire broke out less than two hours before the convoy began rolling to Lake Megantic.
Police say the railway's traffic controller, Richard Labrie, notified Harding about the fire while Harding was staying in a hotel room.
"He (Harding) asked him if he could do anything, but he was told no," the document says, referring to Harding's statement.
"So Mr. Harding did not return to make sure the train was safe."
Investigators have also gathered several statements about the "sorry" state of MMA rails and other equipment, QMI Agency has learned.
Harding, Labrie, and train operations manager John Demaitre are each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.