Railroad CEO Wants To Send Oil Trains Through Town Where Derailment Killed 47 Last Year

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Tankers left after the Lac Megantic disaster in July 2013.

Oil trains could soon be traveling through Lac Mégantic, the tiny Quebec town that was the scene of one of the deadliest train accidents in Canadian history last July.

The new owner of the railroad company responsible for the Lac Mégantic oil train disaster, a derailment which killed 47 people and destroyed much of the town’s center, said this week that within the next ten days he wants to have an agreement with Lac Mégantic officials to restart oil train shipments through the town.

John Giles, CEO of the Central Maine and Quebec railway who on Thursday purchased the U.S. assets of the bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, said the company plans to invest in safety improvements before restarting oil shipments 18 months from now, spending $10 million on rail improvements over the next two summers.

“In the interest of safety, and I think being sensitive toward a social contract with Lac-Mégantic, we have chosen not to handle crude oil and dangerous goods through the city until we’ve got the railroad infrastructure improved, and made more reliable,” Giles told The Associated Press.

Giles didn’t address a desire expressed by Lac Mégantic’s mayor to divert the oil trains around the city, so to try to prevent another deadly derailment.

The July disaster in Lac Mégantic occurred after an unattended, parked train carrying Bakken crude came loose and barreled downhill into the town. More than 60 cars derailed and many exploded, destroying the town’s center and spilling more than 26,400 gallons of oil into the Chaudiere River. Last week, the Quebec government released the results of a study that found that, nearly a year after the disaster, the river is still contaminated with oil. So far, the province has spent $16 million on river cleanup.

“We’re talking about not only the water itself, but along the banks, and everything that’s involved with that,” Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel said. “It’s going to take time, but we want to do the right thing … it’s a long process and it is very costly.”

Three Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway workers are charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence — one for each person killed — for their role in the disaster, charges that several of the town’s residents say should be aimed at the railway owners, not the workers.

“We can’t judge these people — they work for the MMA,” Danielle Champagne, whose daughter Karine died in the disaster, told the Canadian Press. “These aren’t the bosses of the MMA.”

The Lac Mégantic disaster has sparked calls for stricter regulations on oil-by-rail shipments, a method of shipping fuel that’s boomed in the U.S. in the last five years. In Canada, oil-by-rail is also booming — shipments rose by by 83 percent in the last quarter of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. The boom has led to accidents in both countries since the Lac Mégantic disaster — in January, a derailment in New Brunswick, Canada spilled oil and propane and forced 150 from their homes. And in April, an oil train derailed, caught fire and spilled oil into the St. James River in Virginia. That derailment was just the latest of a string of derailments this year in the U.S.