Rail at center of Quebec town tragedy and heart of its recovery

Sun Jul 14, 2013 4:47pm EDT
 
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By Phil Wahba and Julie Gordon

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (Reuters) - It was a runaway train that caused this month's deadly inferno in Lac-Megantic, but the Canadian town's leaders, business owners and many of its residents see the railway as crucial to their survival and want it operating again as soon as possible.

Fifty people, including 15 still missing, are believed to have been killed on July 6 when a driverless train with 72 oil tanker cars crashed and exploded in the center of the picturesque, lakeside town in rural Quebec.

The derailment was the worst railway disaster in North America in 24 years, and cut off Lac-Megantic's companies from the railroad that ships their products to customers, including exports to Maine, just 18 miles away.

While many of the town's 6,000 residents are incensed that trains carrying such flammable cargo could pass through an area with bars, restaurants and other local businesses, they also say the rail is their economic lifeline.

"We don't want to lose the train. We want our economy to function," said Raymond Lafontaine, the owner of an excavation and pavement company that has 175 workers, making it one of the town's largest employers.

Lafontaine lost a son, two daughters-in-law and an employee in the disaster. He said no money is coming in and he is worried about how long he can hang on without the ability to pay his employees. His 46-year-old company, which makes most of its revenue in Lac-Megantic, had just begun work on a major repavement project downtown.

The derailment is widely expected to spur changes in Canadian railway regulations, and has fueled the debate about the safety of using railroads to transport oil.

Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said she will ask the federal government to draw up a new route that skirts the town center when the rail line is rebuilt.   Continued...

 
Firefighters spray wagons at the site of the train wreck in Lac-Megantic July 14, 2013. It was a runaway train that caused this month's deadly inferno in Lac-Megantic, but the Canadian town's leaders, business owners and many of its residents see the railway as crucial to their survival and want it operating again as soon as possible. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger