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Fight Brews Over Who Will Pay To Clean Up Quebec Train Crash


Three weeks after a deadly train crash in eastern Canada, officials have yet to file any charges. Forty-seven people were killed when an unmanned tanker train full of oil derailed and exploded in the heart of a small town. Now, investigators are trying to figure out who or what is to blame. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has the story.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: On Thursday, provincial police raided a regional office of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway in eastern Quebec. Police spokesman Benoit Richard declined to give details about that operation and said no charges have been filed.

BENOIT RICHARD: It's too early to state any charges because we're still at the start of the investigation and, of course, we have a lot of things to look at before dropping accusations.

MANN: Richard says five people are still unaccounted for in the ruins of downtown Lac-Megantic. As the police investigation continues, the families of the victims have begun filing civil suits in U.S. courts. One lawsuit names the railway Chicago-based parent company and also targets the builders of the tanker cars that ruptured and exploded in Lac-Megantic, July 6th. This week, Canada's federal transport agency issued new emergency rules requiring railroads to add extra crews to trains carrying dangerous cargos and to improve braking systems for parked tankers. David Jeans, with a citizens group called Transport Action Canada that lobbies for tighter regulations, was interviewed about those changes on CTV television.

DAVID JEANS: The death toll in this accident was horrific, and I think it's right that parliament should be looking into these issues and particularly the element of secrecy that has surrounded the rules that the railways follow in operating their trains through communities.

MANN: Communities across Canada have demanded more disclosure of the kinds of cargos rolling through their downtowns. Here in the U.S., the rail industry and the Federal Railroad Administration will meet next month to discuss whether tanker cars carrying explosive materials need to be upgraded. During a conference call last week, Michael Ward, head of one of the largest U.S. carriers, CSX Rail, said it's too soon to begin talking about changes to American safety rules.

MICHAEL WARD: I think until there's a causation here, it's going to be a little difficult to see whether there will be a push for further regulation or not.

MANN: While those issues are debated, people in Lac-Megantic are still trying to sort out next steps. Gilles Charest runs a shop just a couple of blocks outside the blast area.

GILLES CHAREST: We don't know exactly what will happen with our town. Maybe a lot of stores that were in the middle of this situation, will they rebuild? Will they go away? Will they build somewhere else? We don't know exactly.

MANN: Local authorities say a major complication is the fact that the American railway company at the center of this disaster - the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic - has stopped paying for cleanup operations. Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said this week that roughly $4 million in bills have gone unpaid. Ed Burkhardt, the railway's president, acknowledged that his company has stopped helping with the recovery.

ED BURKHARDT: We're unable to fund that out of our own cash, so we're waiting for the insurance company to start writing checks.

MANN: Survivors of the explosion did receive one consolation this week. They were bussed for free to see Paul McCartney perform in Quebec City, the provincial capital. McCartney dedicated one of his songs to their community.

PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Foreign language spoken)


MANN: That scene captured in a YouTube video. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.


MCCARTNEY: (Singing) When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.