MONTREAL — Most Canadians live just a few kilometres from rail tracks that are usually an afterthought or, at best, an annoyance when the trains blare their horns after dark.
But the cataclysm that struck a small Quebec border town in July made us all pay closer attention to what's rolling through our neighbourhoods.
For two horrific days, Lac-Megantic burned while the world watched, the deaths of 47 men, women and children a stark reminder of the dangers that come with building a country along the rails.
The victims' stories are too numerous to recount, but one look at chubby-cheeked four-year-old Alyssa Charest Begnoche puts a human face on the incomprehensible numbers.
Alyssa, her nine-year-old sister Bianka and their mother Talitha were incinerated in their home early July 6, when a driverless 72-car train of mislabelled crude oil derailed, caught fire and exploded in the centre of town.
One of the massive tankers, weighing more than nine city buses, crushed the home where Alyssa and her family were sleeping.
The girls' father, Pascal Charest, was standing down the street with a friend when the first deafening boom reverberated through the town and massive orange fireballs lit up the night sky.
Everyone else ran away as Charest sprinted towards the spot where his house had previously stood.
"He ran and pulled his hair," recalled the friend, Andre Turcotte. "He kept shouting 'My girls! My daughters.'"
The heat was so intense that Charest couldn't get close.
Never before have so many people died in a Canadian railway explosion.