Wednesday, July 02, 2014

47 Dead Not Forgotten: Local Activists to Remember Lac-Megantic Disaster

Activists display the banner they will carry on Saturday, July 5th, as part of an awareness campaign regarding "rolling bombs," tanker cars with highly explosive materials transported via train through the North Country.  They will meet at 2 PM at the Plattsburgh Farmers Market.

(C) 2014 Luke T. Bush


Decades ago I was a college student, journalism major. The first article I wrote for the campus newspaper was about "rolling bombs," tanks transported via railways that contained highly explosive materials.

How times have changed.

I live in a building around 40 feet away from a railroad crossing where the bombs roll by.  Black Cyclopean capsules containing Bakken crude oil.  The same material that devastated the town of Lac-Megantic last summer.

Lac-Megantic is located in the eastern townships of Quebec.  During the community's early days the railroad that passed through its center brought business and growth.

In an online slideshow about the history of Lac-Megantic the Montreal Gazette notes: "On July 4, 2013 residents gathered for the unveiling of a special exhibit honouring the role of the railroad in the history of the community."

Two days later a runaway train would derail in Lac-Megantic, resulting in fiery blasts that killed 47 people.  Five bodies were never found, apparently vaporized.

The train had been left unattended by its crew, just one engineer.  The company that had bought the rail line, US-based Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA), was known for cutting costs and letting the line deteriorate, even though it was eligible for federal/provincial funds to fix the marginal condition of the tracks.

The RR crossing out my back door used to have problems with the barrier dropping and red lights flashing even though there was no train.  Some people waiting in vehicles would get fed up and cross the tracks, skirting the wooden arms.  As far as I know the problem has been fixed.

But there's a lot more to the situation than faulty crossing barriers.  The tanker cars transporting the highly inflammable oil are not up to proper safety standards when it comes to potential derailments.  The same type of cars that pass right through the middle of Plattsburgh.

You didn't think that your government, federal and state, would allow such dangerous conditions to exist, did you?  If you did, shake yourself out of that stupor and smell the coffee.

Local activists are planning a rally on Saturday, July 5th, to address the rolling bomb problem.  They will meet at the Farmers Market in the city parking lot in downtown Plattsburgh at 2 PM.  They will march with a banner to raise awareness of the Lac-Megantic disaster.  The procession will end up on Green Street near the area of the railroad trestle that passes over the Saranac River.  Guest speakers will explain the issues surrounding the controversy.

In the meantime the bombs keep rolling.  And the only practical advice I've seen so far in the event of derailment is summed up in one word: Run.

Unless you've been vaporized.

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