As the trial for three men accused of criminal negligence in connection with the train explosion in Lac-Mégantic four years ago is set to begin, residents of the small Quebec town can’t help but look back, even as they seek to move forward.
On the night of July 6, 2013, at 1:15 a.m., a runway train with 72 oil tankers — owned and operated by the now bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways — barreled into the town of Lac-Mégantic.
Forty-seven people were killed and the town’s downtown core destroyed.
“The type of disaster that happened here was a type of disaster that never happened anywhere before,” said Marie-Claude Arguin, the town’s director general, referring to the scale and long-term impacts of the tragedy.
The cleanup and rebuilding has been slow and difficult — the scars on the landscape impossible to miss.
WATCH BELOW: Rebuilding Lac-Mégantic from the ground up
Many of the victims on that night were in Yannick Gagné’s bar the Musi-Café.
He lost customers, close friends and staff.
Gagné has since rebuilt and tries not to focus on the tragedy.
“We have a business to run,” Gagné told Global News.
“I’ll follow the trial a little bit … but it’s not going to change my life.”
The trial is set to begin in Sherbrooke on Monday, after three weeks of jury selection.
Train engineer Tom Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre — all former employees of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways — each face 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.
While an investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSBC) blames a combination of factors — including improper repairs and a weak safety culture — for the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, the Crown will be zeroing in on the actions of the accused.
The Crown is expected to argue that it was the actions of the employees working that night that led to the train derailment and subsequent explosion.
The TSBC report indicates that only seven handbrakes were applied on the train, when the number should have been closer to 20.
Then, another railway employee shut down the locomotive following a small fire on the train.
As a result, the air brakes were also shut down causing the air to bleed off. The train then slowly started moving towards downtown Lac-Mégantic, reaching speeds of more than 100 km/hour by the time it plowed into the town centre.
WATCH BELOW: The anatomy of the Lac-Mégantic train disaster
Gilles Fluet had just walked out of the Musi-Café and said the train missed him by centimeters.
He recalled noticing the wind but said it was almost silent because there was no engine running, no horn and no brakes.
Like many in town, Fluet doesn’t blame the men going on trial Monday.
He said they were part of a company that cut costs to the point that things became dangerous.
He told Global News that charging them is like charging privates for something they were ordered to do by generals.
For her part, Arguin admitted she has misgivings about the trial ahead and is not sure how closely she’ll follow the proceedings.
“People have moved on, and I might be in trouble for saying this, but are the right people on trial? I don’t know.”
Conviction on a charge of criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
— With files from Mike Armstrong
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