Just 7 brakes applied on train that exploded in Lac-Megantic: court docs

Fire from a train explosion is seen in Lac Megantic, July 6, 2013. REUTERS

Fire from a train explosion is seen in Lac Megantic, July 6, 2013. REUTERS

Felix Seguin and Andrew McIntosh, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:20 PM ET

MONTREAL — Only seven hand brakes were applied on the 72-car, crude-oil-carrying train that derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Que, last July, QMI Agency has learned.

The finding is in court documents that provincial police prepared as part of their criminal investigation of Canada's deadliest railway explosion.

The police documents were used to get a search warrant to raid MM&A headquarters in Farnham, Que.

It's based on statements engineer Thomas Harding made a few hours after he left the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MM&A) train unattended in Nantes, Que., located near the Maine border.

The runaway train rolled 12 km down a slope and hurtled into Lac-Megantic before jumping the tracks. The crash and explosion killed 47 people.

"He (Thomas Harding) mentions having stopped the train with air brakes," the document says. "He left the locomotive and applied seven manual brakes."

An MM&A instruction manual obtained during the investigation "states that there must be a minimum of nine manual brakes applied for a convoy of 70-79 cars," the court document says.

Most MM&A engineers interviewed by police said they would apply between 10 and 15 brakes when parking their convoy in Nantes.

Steve Callahan, an independent expert hired by police, recommended applying 15 brakes.

"Taking into account the (train's) weight, (the) length and slope of the railway, the convoy should have had 15 cars with manual brakes activated," police quote Callahan as saying.

Investigators also focused on a fire in the train's locomotive while it was parked in Nantes.



Smoke billows from a massive fire caused by a crude oil explosion after a train derailment in Lac Megantic, Que., July 6, 2013. SURETE DU QUEBEC

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The fire broke out less than two hours before the convoy began rolling to Lac-Megantic.

Police say the railway's traffic controller, Richard Labrie, notified Harding about the fire while Harding was staying in a hotel room.

"He (Harding) asked him if he could do anything, but he was told no," the document says, referring to Harding's statement. "So Mr. Harding did not return to make sure the ... train was safe."

Investigators have also gathered several statements about the "sorry" state of MM&A rails and other equipment, QMI Agency has learned.

Harding, Labrie and train operations manager John Demaitre are each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.


A aerial view of the wreckage of the crude oil train is seen in Lac Megantic, July 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

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