POLITICS

Railway involved in Lac-Megantic disaster has been involved in previous incidents

07/08/2013 07:47 EDT | Updated 09/07/2013 05:12 EDT
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the company involved in the tragedy that has left at least 13 people dead in Quebec, has been involved in eight derailments and four collisions since 2010.

The information is contained in a searchable database of the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration.

In a previous interview with The Canadian Press, a senior company executive said the company had a good safety record.

However, 13,000 litres of diesel fuel it was transporting spilled last month in Frontenac, near the devastated town of Lac-Megantic.

On Oct. 2, 2009, a leak from a tank flowed into the soil of a maintenance site of the Milo company in Maine to contaminate the Piscataquis river. The company paid a $30,000 fine imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in April 2011.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reported eight incidents related to hazardous products and Montreal, Maine & Atlantic in the last eight years.

The company is a subsidiary of Rail World Inc., an Illinois firm incorporated in 1999 and led by Ed Burkhardt, a veteran of the rail industry and recipient of the Railroader of the Year Award by Railway Age magazine.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic asked that calls be directed to Burkhardt's office on Monday. He did not reply to requests for comment.

According to its website, Rail World's goal is to "promote rail industry privatization by bringing together government bodies wishing to sell their stakes with investment capital and management skills."

Burkhardt acquired Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in 2003, naming the century-old transporter the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.

The Bangor, Me.-based company's trains travel almost 820 kilometres across Maine, Vermont and Quebec, passing through a string of small towns such as Lac-Megantic.

It operates a dozen trains daily and has a fleet of 26 locomotives and 170 employees.

Rail World's website says its activities extend to Europe where Burkhardt managed to privatize railways in Estonia in 2001 and where he heads the supervisory board of Rail Polska in Poland.

On Monday, the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec said it had lost $7 million after participating as a minority shareholder in the company upon its founding in 2003. The Caisse had invested $14.7 million — $7 million in equity and $7.7 million in loans.

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic and another rail company, Pan Am Railways, have been shipping crude oil through that state since November 2011 and have had to report the number of barrels of crude oil they import into Maine.

A story in the Bangor Daily News last June said environmentalists were troubled at the prospect of tanker cars full of oil being shipped through the state to the Irving refinery in Saint John, N.B. But it was trumpeted as a boon for the railways looking to keep their shipment volumes high.