Residents of Lac-Mégantic remember 3rd anniversary of train explosion that killed 47

WATCH ABOVE: Remembering the victims of the Lac-Mégantic train derailment.

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Que. – A runaway oil train brought death and destruction to this tiny community in Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying dozens of buildings.

Three years later, trains still roll through downtown, just feet from restaurants and shops.

Residents who see them as a haunting reminder of the conflagration want trains re-routed around the town, and a feasibility study of the proposed bypass, estimated to cost $115 million, is underway.

READ MORE: Lac-Mégantic residents donate money for Fort McMurray fire victims

“We don’t want to be victims of human error or an accident,” said Robert Bellefleur, spokesman for Lac-Mégantic‘s citizens’ coalition for rail safety.

Much of downtown Lac-Mégantic was destroyed when a runaway oil train derailed early on July 6, 2013.

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An investigation concluded a railroad worker failed to set enough hand brakes, allowing the unmanned train to begin rolling downhill in the dead of night.

The fiery derailment, along with others that followed in the U.S. and Canada, led to tougher government regulations on the transport of oil by rail.

Three men, including the train’s conductor, face charges of criminal negligence causing death.

READ MORE: Rebuilding after the Lac-Mégantic train derailment

Residents were taking time on the third anniversary Wednesday to remember those who perished, but “the best way to honour the ones who died is to move forward,” said Stephane Lavallée, director of the Lac-Mégantic Reconstruction Office.

Restoration work continues after demolition of damaged structures and removal of contaminated soil.

Infrastructure projects include electricity, communications and sewers.

Wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train in Lac-Mégantic, Que. are pictured July 8, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho, SQ
Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in Lac Mégantic, Que., July 6, 2013. The Quebec town that was devastated in 2013 when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people, will not pursue legal action against Canadian Pacific Railway. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
In this July 9, 2013 file photo, workers comb through debris after a train derailed causing explosions of railway cars carrying crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. A government watchdog says federal regulators are failing to refer serious safety violations involving freight rail shipments of crude oil for criminal prosecution. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP, File
The downtown core lays in ruins as firefighters continue to water the smoldering rubble, Sunday, July 7, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Que. after a train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil. Transport Canada has approved rules intended to reduce the risk of runaway trains in response to recommendations by the Transportation Safety Board following the deadly derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Former Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. employees Tom Harding, right, Jean Demaitre, centre, and Richard Labrie are escorted by police to appear in court in Lac-Mégantic, Que., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The lawyer for the Harding, the train driver charged in the deadly Lac-Mégantic disaster, says Crown prosecutors are seeking to prevent his client from having a preliminary inquiry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
This Feb. 16, 2015 photo provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada shows a ruptured tank car on fire after a crude oil train derailment south of south of Timmins, Ontario. An investigation into the recent derailment in Ontario of a freight train carrying crude oil suggests new safety standards introduced after the Lac-Mégantic, Que., tragedy are inadequate, Canada's transport investigator said Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Transportation Safety Board of Canada
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Quebec police investigating the Lac-Mégantic train disaster say they've visited the United States four times to seize documents and to interview witnesses - including railway chairman Ed Burkhardt. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Firefighters from all over the province, and as far away as Maine, gather for a memorial mass in Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2014. Billy Shields/Global News

Frontenac Street, at the town’s centre, is expected to reopen this fall.

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But wounds are reopened each time a train rolls through town.

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway filed for bankruptcy after the tragedy.

The new owner of the tracks, the Bangor, Maine-based Central Maine & Quebec Railroad, spent millions of dollars to improve safety before resuming shipments of hazardous materials in the fall of 2014.

Trains are limited to 10 mph while travelling through town.

But no crude oil has moved through Lac-Mégantic since the tragedy.

READ MORE: Portrait of a tragedy: Montreal photographer documents Lac-Mégantic aftermath

Central Maine & Quebec CEO John Giles has promised to visit Lac-Mégantic to talk to residents about safety when oil shipments eventually resume.

The bypass proposal calls for about 7 miles of new track so trains can go around Lac-Mégantic’s downtown, but some in the town of about 6,000 residents fear the study could take years.

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Jean-Guy Cloutier said the town doesn’t have to wait until the feasibility study is completed to begin negotiations to get the project started.

READ MORE: $75M settlement for Lac-Megantic victims made public: Former transport minister

While the Lac-Mégantic bypass may one day be built, it wouldn’t make sense to divert rail traffic from all small towns through which oil trains travel because it would be too costly, said David Clarke, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee.

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Railroads are responsible for track upgrades and improvements, so they tend to aim for the projects that’ll have the greatest impact on improving safety, Clarke said.

“You’re going to go for the higher-profile, higher-payoff projects first, if you’re investing your money in a rational way. But politics often come into play,” he said.

Giles said the railroad’s business is growing but that the funding for a bypass would have to come from the province and from the Canadian government.

The small railroad doesn’t have millions of dollars to invest on the project, he said.

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