Trial of Lac-Mégantic: the letter that the jury has not seen

News 12 January, 2018
  • Caroline Lepage

    Friday, 12 January, 2018 01:00

    Friday, 12 January, 2018 01:00

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    SHERBROOKE | Tom Harding had already been suspended for five days in 2008 for not having put hand brakes on a train of 58 wagons, what the jury never knew during his trial.

    On July 2, 2008, Tom Harding, and the engineer with whom he worked have locked-in 58 cars, on a track link to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. We learn in a letter obtained by The Newspaper that Harding, who was acting as the head of the train, had no hand brake and not enough of the air brakes on the convoy that went crashing into another train.

    Photo By Caroline Lepage

    Tom Harding had been reduced to the order by his superiors five years before the explosion in Lac-Mégantic because it had not set enough hand brakes the train, and it was adrift. This is exactly what the Crown has alleged at his trial for criminal negligence causing 47 deaths.

    “The consequences of this collision would have been able to threaten your safety and that of your engineer, an employee of Railpower technologies, and the innocent citizens of Saint-Jean “, writes John W. Schultz, who was then vice-president, transportation to the MMA.

    The letter included several safety regulations that explained how to secure a train, and to perform the effectiveness test required.

    Hidden to the jury

    The Crown wished to file this letter and the suspension in evidence to show the jury of eight men and four women that Tom Harding knew the rules on securing trains, which he never denied, even if it has not fully adhered to, on the evening of July 5, 2013.

    This letter was excluded from evidence by the judge Gaetan Dumas. He considered that it would be too prejudicial to Mr. Harding, who is accused of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people. He explained to the jury that it should judge the actions of Mr. Harding on the day of the event.

    Now that the jury is sequestered, the order of publication was lifted.

    Harding has, therefore, served a five-day suspension without pay after these events and was put on probation for one year. If it is not secured no its trains again, it would scour the other five days of suspension in addition to new sanctions, says the letter.

    Almost five years to the day after his suspension, Tom Harding has again stopped a train on a descending grade, at Nantes. This time, he had set enough brakes to air, but not enough hand brakes.

    After a fire in the lead locomotive, the train roared down the coast before you derail and explode in downtown Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013.

    The director not happy

    In an email exchange dated 15 July 2008 which has not been presented to the jury, Mr. Schultz asked Jean Demaître, who was chief operating officer of MMA in Quebec and also accused of criminal negligence causing 47 deaths, to do more checks on the ground to observe the employees. “Maybe you could prevent one or two (accidents) to happen,” he wrote.

    “I’m sorry that you think that these incidents are reached because of a communication error with the crew and that I do not leave enough to our offices in Farnham. […] I do not believe that this will be the last incident to happen in Canada, ” replied Mr. Demaître.

    Excerpts of the letter

    “Please consider this letter as a warning, and any new incident or failure to comply with rules of this nature will not be tolerated and will result in new disciplinary sanctions and possibly dismissal. “

    “It is obvious that your an engineer and you have not conducted adequate preparation and effective operation before detaching the train of 58 wagons in the exchange of the CN. If you’ve done it, the 58 cars would have been secured correctly and in a manner consistent with the rules (with the full application of air brakes, sufficient hand brakes applied and the valve is angled to the left, near the locomotive, open). These discussions have allowed us to avoid this serious incident. “

    “Following its application (CN), you have closed the shut-off valves bent, at each end of the train of 58 wagons, and you have not applied the hand brakes on. “

    – In collaboration with David Prince