The Canadian government has hit Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. with fresh charges over a 2013 derailment that killed 47 people.
The charges were laid Monday against the company and its president, Robert Grindrod, according to Zach Segal, a spokesman for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt. Five others with ties to the company, including Thomas Harding, the train’s conductor, were also named.
Each is facing two charges under the Railway Safety Act — one of failing to apply a sufficient number of hand brakes, and another for failing to check, once the brakes were set, that the train wouldn’t move — Transport Canada said in a statement.
Grindrod said by phone he had not been served or given any details on the new charges. Thomas Walsh, a lawyer representing Harding, said his client hasn’t been served and that the charges are unnecessary because they overlap with existing criminal charges.
“The first thing that comes to mind is it’s politically motivated,” Walsh said in an interview. “They’re trying to put a nice gloss on Transport Canada as the public guardian of safety in our railway system, when it’s been anything but that.”
Raitt told television network CTV the charges came almost two years after the derailment because investigators wanted to be diligent.
“Quite frankly, you want to get it right” so that the case isn’t thrown out of court on a technicality, Raitt told the network. “If you don’t learn from Lac-Megantic, what are you going to learn from?”
Both Railway Safety Act charges carry a maximum fine of C$1 million ($812,000) for a company, while for individuals the maximum penalty is a C$50,000 fine and six months in jail, Transport Canadasaid. The “affected individuals” are expected to be served over the next several days and must appear in court in November.
An unspecified number of charges were also laid by Environment Canada under the Fisheries act, related to the spill of crude oil into a nearby river from the Lac-Megantic derailment, EnvironmentCanada said in a statement. The department said that two of the railway’s corporate entities, and seven individuals, will face a charge under the Fisheries Act but didn’t identify the individuals. Those facing an environmental charge will also be due in court in November.
In July 2013, an unattended train carrying crude oil through Lac-Megantic, Quebec, rolled downhill, derailed and exploded, destroying much of the town and killing 47 people.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic later filed for bankruptcy. At the time of the derailment its insurance wasn’t enough to cover the multimillion-dollar costs of evacuation, fire suppression, cleanup, injury and property damage.
John Giles, Chief Executive Officer of Central, Maine & Quebec Railway, didn’t respond to an e-mail request for comment. Montreal, Maine & Atlantic changed its name to Central, Maine & Quebec after the assets were acquired by a unit of Fortress Investment Group LLC.
The Canadian government introduced changes earlier this year that set minimum levels of insurance that railways must carry and created a compensation fund in the event of railway disasters, among other changes. The law, dubbed the Safe and Accountable Rail Act, was spurred by the Lac-Megantic tragedy and was passed by Parliament this month.
–With assistance from Frederic Tomesco in Montreal.