Chronology of key events leading up to the Lac-Megantic disaster
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, July 9, 2013 4:45PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 19, 2014 12:12PM EDT
LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. -- Some notable developments that followed the July 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 people:
July 6, 2013: An unattended train with 72 tankers containing volatile crude oil came loose and rolled about 10 kilometres down a slope before jumping off the tracks in Lac-Megantic at 1:15 a.m. The derailment caused a series of explosions that launched towering fireballs into the air. The blast wiped out dozens of structures in the downtown core, including a bustling bar, several homes and the library. Officials quickly evacuated 2,000 people from nearby residences.
July 7: Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Lac-Megantic, describing the area as a war zone and offering federal relief to rebuild the town. Police officially raised the death toll to five while estimating at least 40 people were still unaccounted for. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway issued a statement saying the locomotive was shut down after the engineer had left for the night. The railway said this may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that were holding the train in place.
July 8: The federal Transportation Safety Board and Quebec provincial police announced they would separately investigate the derailment. Firefighters from the neighbouring town of Nantes said they had been called to fight a fire on board one of the locomotives a little more than an hour before it slammed into Lac-Megantic. The railway suggested the decision to shut off the locomotive might have disabled the brakes, but the fire chief said shutting the engine off was standard procedure dictated by the railway. Officials raised the death toll to 13, while the Queen issued a statement expressing condolences.
July 9: Quebec police announced they were treating the derailment site as a crime scene and floated the possibility of laying criminal negligence charges. About 1,200 residents were allowed to return home.
July 10: Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway chairman Edward Burkhardt visited Lac-Megantic, where he was greeted by angry hecklers blaming him and his company for the disaster. He said the train's engineer had been suspended. Police raised the official death toll to 20, adding they expected a total of close to 50 victims. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois announced the province would lower all flags to half-mast for a week and said the government would offer the town $60 million in aid.
July 11: Marois made an official visit to the town as her municipal counterpart lashed out at rail officials. Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy Laroche criticized Burkhardt, alleging he cancelled a planned meeting with her during his visit to the town. About 600 residents who had fled their residences after the crash were allowed to return home.
July 12: The Transportation Safety Board described the Lac-Megantic disaster as potentially the worst in Canadian history, adding it would take months to investigate. Residents held a candlelight vigil in town.
July 14: Authorities demolished two buildings that were posing a danger to the recovery effort. Municipal council officially lodged a request with the provincial government to postpone upcoming elections for two years in light of the disaster.
July 19: The Transportation Safety Board took the unusual step of recommending two immediate changes to rail safety despite the fact that its investigation was not over. The board recommended that dangerous goods should not be left unattended on a main track and also that rail equipment be properly secured. Rock legend Paul McCartney reached out to Lac-Megantic residents by offering free tickets to his upcoming show in Quebec City.
July 22: The federal government matched provincial aid efforts by announcing a $60-million fund to help Lac-Megantic rebuild. In the U.S., a wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in an Illinois court against MMA, its parent company, Burkhardt, and several U.S. petroleum companies linked to the disaster. An Illinois lawyer, who filed the court documents on behalf of the family of a Lac-Megantic man killed by the derailment, said he expected to present many more similar suits that could seek millions in damages from the defendants.
July 23: Transport Canada issued new safety directives that took effect immediately. The new rules stated that at least two crew members must work trains that carry dangerous goods. In addition, no locomotive attached to one or more tank cars transporting dangerous materials can be left unattended on a main track.
July 25: Police began conducting an investigation at an MMA office in Farnham, Que., but declined to discuss details.
July 27: Lac-Megantic held a memorial ceremony for the 47 victims of the disaster. Harper, Marois, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were among those in attendance.
Aug. 7: Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway said it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. It also said its sister company, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Canada Co., simultaneously filed a petition in Quebec Superior Court in Montreal seeking relief under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, a step that would protect it from its creditors.
Sept. 11: The Transportation Safety Board said the crude oil that exploded into flames in the train derailment was as volatile as gasoline, but had been labelled as a less-dangerous product akin to diesel or bunker crude.
Nov: 21: Ottawa and Quebec announced they would split the estimated $190-million price tag to decontaminate the soil, lake and river in the Lac-Megantic area.
Dec. 13: Transport Canada said it obtained a warrant to search the offices of Irving Oil in Saint John, N.B., in connection with the tragedy.
Dec. 18: Rail service resumed in Lac-Megantic under stricter safety conditions. On the same day, a U.S. judge gave the green light for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to be auctioned off.
Jan. 21: Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway is sold in a closed-door auction for $15.85 million. The buyer was later revealed to be Railroad Acquisition Holdings, an affiliate of New York-based Fortress Investment Group.
Jan. 23: The Transportation Safety Board says Ottawa needs to take urgent action to pull outdated and unsafe rail cars from Canada's tracks, as well as reassess the safety of all potential routes used to transport dangerous goods.
Feb. 13: Survivors of the rail disaster announce they're expanding their class-action lawsuit to include the federal government. The suit alleges Ottawa neglected to sanction the rail company after the disaster and continued to do business with them.
April 23: The federal government pledges to pull all old tank cars, known as DOT-111s, off Canada's rails during the next few years. The promise involves removing up to 5,000 of the rupture-prone tankers from the tracks within a month.
May 12: Quebec prosecutors lay 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death against the rail company and three of its employees. Train engineer Thomas Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre were all charged.
Aug. 19: The Transportation Safety Board releases its final report, saying MMA had a weak safety culture and that Transport Canada did not audit the company often or thoroughly enough.