On early Saturday morning in Quebec there was a train parked near the town of Lac-Megantic. For reasons that were initially unclear, the Montreal Maine & Atlantic (MMA) Railway train became dislodged and ran out of control toward the town. Making matters worse, the train was hauling crude oil at the time–72 cars worth. The train eventually derailed in the center of town, causing the crude oil to explode in a ball of flames.
Authorities are still combing through the devastation, but the damage is severe. According to a report in yesterday’s Leader-Post the official death toll in the disaster has risen to twenty people. But that may be just the beginning. At least another thirty individuals are missing. As reported by DW News, the local police inspector noted that those missing were “most probably dead in this tragedy.”
This is obviously a tragic disaster of immense proportions.
Luckily, efforts are already underway to determine exactly what went wrong and to ensure those involved are held responsible.
Following this Quebec train accident, serious attention is being paid to MMA Railway, the company which is at the center of the incident. The chairman of MMA gave a press conference on Tuesday where he suggested that a “combination of factors” were to blame. Yet, the chairman already admitted that the train was left alone on the main track the night of the incident. The engineer was not on site. Instead, he was at a hotel several miles away. This left the train sitting alone at the top of the hill with the town below until another engineer was scheduled back the following morning.
While sitting there, at midnight, there was a small fire in the train which was put out by local firefighters. The MMA “trackman” was told that the locomotive was shut down by firefighters. The trackman then told an MMA train dispatcher about the situation. The fact that the locomotive was shut down meant that the air brakes were disabled. Yet, the MMA employees did not do anything in response to this situation, setting the stage for the train coming loose and rolling toward the town.
Perhaps most importantly, the MMA chairman admitted that the hand brakes were not set on the train. He noted, “adequate hand brakes were not set on this train and it was the engineer’s responsibility to set them.” Local authorities harshly criticized the company’s response to the incident, and actual criminal investigations are underway to get to the bottom on the incident.
Chicago MMA Lawsuits
Legal action is likely following this awful tragedy. Those lawsuits may actually originate in Chicago. That is because MMA is affiliated with a private rail management and investment firm based in Chicago, Rail World Inc. Various “choice of law” rules will need to be worked out in any subsequent legal case to determine where the suits will stay and what exact law will apply.
However, in any case, a key issue will be potential negligence on the part of MMA and its employees. That will include close analysis of what the employees did or did not do in response to the situation and what would have been reasonable pursuant to general standards of safety. We will no doubt learn much more about all of this in the next few days, weeks, and months.
In the meantime, anyone affected by this tragedy should contact an experienced train accident attorney immediately to ensure their rights are protected.