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Whatever happened to… the Lac Megantic train derailment

Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que., Saturday, July 6, 2013. Canadian members of Parliament have passed a unanimous motion condemning Netflix for using images of the Lac-Megantic rail disaster in fictional dramas and are demanding financial compensation for the Quebec community for using the tragic images without consent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

On this episode of the Global News podcast Whatever Happened To…?, journalist Erica Vella revisits the 2013 Lac Megantic train derailment.

In the early hours of July 6, 2013, a train carrying petroleum crude oil crashed into the centre of Lac Megantic, a small town in Quebec.

The downtown core erupted in flames; 47 people perished, 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes. The tragedy marks one of the worst rail disasters in Canadian history.

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Hours before the derailment, Gilles Fluet had been at the Musi-Café, a popular bar in downtown Lac Megantic.

Read more: Irving-owned company, Southern Railway Ltd., pleads not guilty to safety violations in oil transport

“I was taking a tour of downtown, as I had been done regularly for years and around 9:30 p.m., I stopped at Musi-Café — there were two musicians I knew and who were excellent. It was a party, there was a nice atmosphere. So I spent the evening there,” he said.

Close to midnight, Fluet said he was ready to call it a night

“I started to think about going back home. So, I did the rounds, said bye to all my friends,” Fluet said.

“I took the sidewalk to walk home with a couple of friends. We had just crossed the track in the direction of my house and the train passed four feet from behind me.”

Fluet said he felt the sudden rush of air behind him and knew something wasn’t right.

“Usually, when a train passes through town, we hear a type of decompression, the lights, horns, the noise of the brakes creaking; there was none of that,” he said.

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“This was coming in at 105km/h. The time it took me to realize there was something happening behind me, the five locomotives, the train’s back and the buffer had passed.

Read more: Lac-Mégantic marks seventh anniversary of 2013 rail disaster with memorial site

“I saw the faces of my friends who were about 30 feet from me. I had time to tell them to run, it’s going to blow. In my head, I knew it was going to blow. In just half a minute, everything was over.”

 

The incident happened at 1:15 a.m. on July 6, 2013, when a runaway train with 72 oil tankers — owned and operated by the now-bankrupt railway company Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. (MMA) — barrelled into the town at over 100 km/h.

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Read more: Lac-Megantic trial: 3 men found not guilty of criminal negligence in train derailment that killed 47 people

Along with the 47 deaths, much of the town was also destroyed.

The Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation into the derailment and found 18 factors led to the Lac-Megantic disaster, including poor training, mechanical problems and sloppy safety oversight, a Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigation concluded.

READ MORE: Public inquiry only way to get to bottom of Lac-Megantic disaster

Three men, Tom Harding, Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre, were charged following the derailment, but in 2018 a jury had found the men not guilty.

On this episode of Whatever Happened To…, Erica Vella visits the town of Lac Megantic to speak with people who witnessed the tragedy over seven years ago. She describes what the town looks like know and finds out if any changes were made to ensure a derailment like this never happens again.

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— With files from and Rebecca Joseph. 

Contact:

Email: erica.vella@globalnews.ca

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