Canada to shut rail firm in Quebec crash

Tuesday 13 August 2013 23.02
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47 people were killed in last month's crash in Quebec
47 people were killed in last month's crash in Quebec
The resulting explosions obliterated the centre of lakeside Lac-Megantic
The resulting explosions obliterated the centre of lakeside Lac-Megantic

Canada is to shut down the rail operator whose tanker train blew up in a Quebec town last month, killing 47 people.

A government regulator today said the company does not have enough insurance to pay clean-up costs and other damages.

The Canadian Transportation Agency said it would suspend the operating licence of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) and its Canadian subsidiary from 20 August.

It added that it would give the two firms "time to arrange for the orderly cessation of their operations in Canada".

MMA filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada and the United States last week after the 6 July derailment and crash of the runaway train laden with oil.

The resulting explosions obliterated the centre of lakeside Lac-Megantic, a small town in eastern Quebec close to the border with Maine.

In a court filing, the company said its insurance covered liabilities up to C$25 million (€18m), while clean-up costs could exceed C$200 million (€146m).

MMA also faces a series of class-action lawsuits in Quebec and in the US on behalf of the victims, as well as a notice of claim from a firm that is unable to ship from its Lac-Megantic production facilities.

An estimated 5.6m litres of oil were spilled in the crash.

The Canadian Transportation Agency - an independent government body that oversees railway insurance - said it had contacted MMA and its Canadian subsidiary to ensure they continued to hold adequate third-party liability insurance.

But CTA chief executive officer Geoff Hare said the agency was not satisfied with the response.

"It would not be prudent, given the risks associated with rail operations, to permit MMA and MMAC to continue to operate without adequate insurance coverage," Mr Hare said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for MMA Chairman Ed Burkhardt said he was unaware of the agency's move.

The disaster - the worst of its kind in North America in two decades - happened when the train started moving after it had been parked for the night a few kilometres outside Lac-Megantic.

Mr Burkhardt said last month he doubted whether the engineer had set enough handbrakes after parking the train.

Lac-Megantic, a town of around 6,000, was developed around the railway and businesses have already expressed concern about the impact if the MMA rail link closes permanently.