July 27, 2013

Railroad executive puzzled by police raid

After a train crash kills 47 people, Ed Burkhardt says the company is cooperating with the investigation, which remains limited to Canada.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Ed Burkhardt, chairman of the board of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, says he doesn't know why police raided the company's Quebec offices on Thursday, insisting that the company has been cooperating with police and federal authorites.

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. A Rail World train crashed into the town killing 47 people. Burkhardt blamed the accident on an employee who he said had failed to properly set the brakes. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

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"If they asked for what they wanted, we would have given it to them," he said in a telephone interview Friday.

Quebec's provincial police raided a Canadian office of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway in connection with its investigation into the July 6 train derailment that killed nearly 50 people.

There was no indication that the investigation has crossed the border into Maine, where Montreal, Maine & Atlantic is headquartered, or into Illinois, where its parent company, Rail World Inc., is located.

Burkhardt said he is unaware of any law enforcement agencies in the United States that may be involved in the Canadian investigation.

State and federal officials in Maine said they have not been contacted by Canadian authorities in connection with the criminal investigation by Quebec police.

Maine State Police spokesman Stephen McCausland said his agency has not been involved to date.

U.S. Attorney for Maine Thomas E. Delahanty II said his office has not been contacted by Canadian officials.

Provincial police released few details about the raid at the railroad's offices in Farnham, Quebec, about 40 miles east of Montreal, but police Inspector Michael Forget told reporters that officials were there to gather evidence.

"Our investigators were on scene ... to find different evidence that I can't comment on," he said. "This raid was done with the help of different partners. We'll be there until we have gathered all of the evidence that we need."

It's not clear what was seized. Photos taken during the raid show police carrying away unlabeled cardboard boxes.

No arrests have been made, and Forget did not say whether any additional searches would be conducted. He said employees of MM&A were cooperative.

The criminal investigation began shortly after the derailment and is separate from an investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which is looking into whether safety procedures were followed.

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train hauling 73 cars of crude oil was unmanned when it barreled into the small town of Lac-Megantic at more than 60 miles per hour, decimating several buildings and claiming at least 47 lives.

Cleanup is still going on and likely will continue for weeks. Colette Roy-Laroche, the mayor of Lac-Megantic, said Thursday that the railroad company has not paid the more than $4 million in cleanup costs. Roy-Laroche told Canadian media outlets that the town is considering legal action against Montreal, Maine & Atlantic.

The railroad company is also expected to face numerous lawsuits filed by survivors of those killed by the derailment. The first lawsuit was filed on Monday in Cook County, Ill., where Montreal, Maine & Atlantic's parent company is based.

The complainants have argued that the railway and its CEO, Ed Burkhardt, neglected safety rules in order to cut costs.

Burkhardt has laid blame on train engineer Tom Harding, alleging he "did something wrong" on the night of the crash.

Because the derailment occurred on rail lines owned by the Maine-based company, U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree have called on federal officials to conduct a thorough inspection of the tracks. Federal Railroad Adminstration officials have been in Maine for the past week doing just that.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of the Portland Press Herald.

Michaud and Pingree have met with both the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, but neither agency has authority to bring criminal charges.

 

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

 

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