July 31, 2013

State preparing for Maine railway shutdown

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway has laid off 79 workers since a July 6 derailment killed 47 people and devastated an entire Quebec town.

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Contingency planning is under way in case Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway stops service following a runaway train explosion and fire that claimed 47 lives just north of the Maine border, state transportation officials said Tuesday.

click image to enlarge

Rail World Inc. President Edward Burkhardt speaks to the media as he tours Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on Wednesday, July 10, 2013. Burkhardt said Wednesday that an employee failed to properly set the brakes of the train that crashed into a town in Quebec, killing 47 people. (AP Photo/ The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

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In this July 16 photo, wok continues at the crash site of the deadly train derailment and fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

The Associated Press

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The railway has been ordered to share the cleanup costs for the explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, with the energy company that was shipping crude oil to a refinery in New Brunswick. There are concerns about the crushing costs of litigation, as well.

Nathan Moulton, rail director for the Maine Department of Transportation, said he's making no predictions about the rail company's future but added that state officials would be remiss if they didn't have a contingency plan.

"We're getting ready, just in case," Moulton said.

The Maine-based rail line had no immediate comment Tuesday.

Canadian investigators said insufficient brake force allowed a parked train with 72 tankers of crude oil to begin rolling to downtown Lac-Megantic, where it derailed and several tankers exploded. The explosions and fire killed 47 people and destroyed 40 buildings in the lakeside town of 6,000.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway has laid off 79 of its 179 employees because of the July 6 tragedy, which put a stop to some traffic on its line. But the company is continuing operations on other routes.

Its work force in Maine bore the brunt of the layoffs.

Staff attorneys with the Maine Department of Transportation have looked into how rail service would continue either through a court-appointed trustee in bankruptcy court or through an alternative operator appointed by the Surface Transportation Board if rail service is discontinued, Moulton said.

The rail line was already in bankruptcy when it was purchased by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.

So far, MM&A has been cooperative in keeping rail traffic moving through other railroads. "Overall a lot of the stuff in Maine is still moving. It's moving on different routing, but it's still moving," Moulton said.

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