Thomas Harding (centre) one of three Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway employees charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death - Date unknown Dario Ayala.
13 June 2014
Harding an Excellent Engineer
Lake Megantic Quebec - When train engineer Thomas Harding learned that a fire had broken out in the locomotive of a train he had parked in Nantes, he offered to leave his hotel in Lake Megantic to go check it out but was told by one of his supervisors instead to go to bed.
About 90 minutes later, Harding heard an explosion, saw flames outside, and his hotel was evacuated.
That information is contained in a search-warrant request filed by the Surete du Quebec last July and made public Friday.
None of the allegations contained in the 29-page document have been proven.
The warrant request, to search the Farnham offices of Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), gives details for the first time of the actions Harding took the night a runaway oil train derailed in Lake Megantic, setting off explosions and a fire that destroyed the centre of town and killed 47 people.
Harding is one of three MMA employees, along with the company, charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death in connection with the derailment.
Harding was the sole employee in charge of the train that night.
He had driven the 72-car train on 5 Jul 2013 from Farnham to Nantes, where another employee was to pick the train up on 6 Jul 2013 to bring it to the United States, the warrant said.
The train, carrying crude oil from North Dakota, was destined for an Irving refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.
About an hour after leaving Farnham, MMA's internal communication network recorded a conversation between "Tom" and another employee, discussing a problem with one of the locomotives, the warrant said.
When he met with the SQ on the day of the derailment, Harding said he notified MMA's head office in Maine that unusual smoke had been coming from the locomotive's chimney that day.
After parking the train in Nantes around 11 p.m., engaging the train's air-brake system, and applying seven hand brakes, Harding told the SQ he did a brake test to make sure the train was parked, and then contacted MMA's railway-control centre to report the train was parked.
MMA's own guidelines called for a minimum of nine hand brakes to be applied to the train.
Several other MMA employees told the SQ they routinely applied more hand brakes to trains than were required by MMA, particularly in Nantes because the tracks were on a hill.
According to the warrant, MMA employees said Harding did not discuss the derailment with them, but told one "I've done everything by the book," and another that he had secured the train and he was afraid he was going to lose his job.
The employees told the SQ Harding was an "excellent", "experienced" engineer who had expressed misgivings about MMA's one-person crew policy.
The warrant also says Harding said he had informed the MMA employee in Maine that more smoke than usual was coming from the parked locomotive when he left Nantes.
After parking the train, Harding left Nantes in a taxi and went to Lake Megantic for the night.
Around midnight, according to a recording from MMA's internal communication system, MMA's rail-traffic controller, Richard Labrie, called Harding, told him a fire had broken out in the locomotive and asked whether he had shut down the locomotives before he left Nantes.
Harding said he had shut off four of the locomotives, but left the lead locomotive running, the warrant said.
Harding told Labrie that he had problems with that locomotive earlier in the day.
Harding asked if someone was taking care of the fire.
Labrie said firefighters were in Nantes and the fire had been extinguished.
Harding asked Labrie if he should go back to Nantes to restart the engine, but Labrie said another employee was on his way to Nantes.
Harding asked Labrie to get back to him, but Labrie told him to go to bed because there was nothing else the engineer could do, the warrant said.
Labrie also said he wasn't going to restart the locomotive at that point because the American employee would have to restart the whole train later that day anyway.
Harding said he was surprised the locomotive caught fire, and Labrie replied that it must be a small fire.
Labrie again asked Harding if he had turned off four locomotives, leaving only the lead locomotive running, which Harding confirmed.
Just over an hour later, the train derailed in Lake Megantic.