OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) - The Canadian government on Monday charged the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Railway Ltd, its affiliate and eight people with violating federal railway safety and environmental laws in connection with a 2013 oil train crash that killed 47 people and flattened the heart of the Quebec village of Lac-Megantic.
Robert Grindrod, the chief executive of now-bankrupt Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Railway, was among those charged with contravening the federal Railway Safety Act.
Canada’s transport ministry also named five others facing charges, including train driver Thomas Harding, who faces separate charges of criminal negligence. It said others could not be named as they had not been served.
In total, eight people and the two companies, including Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Co, the affiliate, have been charged with allegedly violating federal railway safety laws.
Nine people and the two companies were charged with violating Canada’s Fisheries Act, which protects waterways.
Grindrod said in a voice mail that he had only heard about the charges through media reports. “I am not going to say anything based on that,” he said from his home in Maine.
The charges followed a Transport Canada investigation that found an insufficient number of handbrakes and improper testing of handbrakes had allowed an unattended train carrying North Dakota crude oil to roll down a hill and derail on July 6, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, about 160 miles (250 km) east of Montreal.
The resulting explosion and fire caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages as well as 47 deaths in what was the continent’s deadliest rail disaster in two decades.
The calamity also focused attention on the growing popularity of crude-by-rail shipments across North America.
Environment Canada alleged that the accused allowed the crude oil spill.
Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said her department was still investigating alleged violations of rules for transportation of dangerous cargo, and that other charges could follow.
Each charge under the Railway Safety Act carries a fine of up to C$1 million ($812,479) for companies. Individuals face fines of up to C$50,000 and up to six months in prison. Penalties could be more severe for an alleged violation of the Fisheries Act, which the government said would be an indictable offense.
Three former railway employees - train driver Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre, the manager of train operations - are facing 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death, one for each victim of the disaster.
A trial date is to be set in September, Canadian media reported.
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer and Allison Lampert; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Chris Reese and Paul Simao