Thursday, December 5, 2013
When a train carrying 72 tanker cars of oil crashed and exploded July 6 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the economic effect was felt all the way down the tracks.
The town 10 miles from the Maine border probably will take decades to recover from the tragedy. Forty-seven people died, five are still missing and the cleanup is expected to cost millions. That doesn’t even take into account the devastation to the town of 6,000, which has relied on the railroad for 145 years.
Across the border, however, smaller ripples also have been felt, particularly in Jackman, where the train stops to pick up loads from the Moose River Lumber Co.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the Maine-based company that owns the train that crashed, has stopped service at the Lac-Megantic station, which means Jackman, the next eastbound stop about 44 miles away, is not getting any train service.
The railroad has said it may be able to restore service to some of the undamaged tracks at Lac-Megantic as early as this week, but there is no telling what the crash’s long-term effect could be on the railway’s future.
On Wednesday, the railroad filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company’s chairman had said previously that the filing was likely because the Hermon-based railroad’s lines remained closed in Lac-Megantic.
Some of the railroad’s customers, including Moose River Lumber, are concerned that with litigation, tougher rules for railroads such as the ones established Friday night by the Federal Railroad Administration and other prolonged issues, MM&A won’t be able to operate economically.
Barbara Kane, chairwoman of the Jackman Planning Board and a board member on the Somerset County Economic Development Council, said that with 75 employees, the lumber company is the largest employer in Jackman and neighboring Moose River, the combined population of which is about 1,000 people.
In the days since the Lac-Megantic train derailment, she said, residents have become concerned not only about the welfare of people in the nearby Canadian town, many of whom have family ties to Jackman, but also about the railroad’s safety and the future of their workforce.
“The rail line has been a big part of our infrastructure since the late 1800s. They move a lot of products, and it is pretty interwoven in our economy,” Kane said.
Moose River Lumber supports logging and trucking as well as other businesses in the area, she said.
“The people that work there are a part of our community. Any interruption in their production affects the business of the town,” Kane said.
Steve Banahan, sales and transportation manager for Moose River Lumber, said Wednesday that he hopes the line will re-open so his company can ship to Montreal, but that he hasn’t heard anything about that possibility from his discussions with MM&A. Even if the railroad does reopen, Banahan said he is still concerned about the future.
“Yes, we need to get the line back open, but we have no idea what the long-term liability of MM&A might be,” Banahan said.
Moose River Lumber, which produces about 120 million board feet a year, according to the company's website, has used the railway for the last 10 to 12 years for about 30 percent of its transport, Banahan said. The rest is done by truck, which is more expensive.
The company, which processes spruce fir from Maine and Quebec and turns it into dimension lumber for building houses, relies on the railroad for bringing logs in as well as shipping lumber out. The lumber is shipped west, passing through Lac-Megantic on its way to Montreal, before distribution on the eastern seaboard, Banahan said.
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