Two Years After Oil Train Disaster, Profound Scars Remain in Lac-Mégantic

A week of direct actions across Canada and the U.S. to stop so-called “bomb trains” began on Monday, the two-year anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, when an unmanned train with 72 tankers carrying 30,000 gallons of crude oil careened into a small town in the Canadian province of Quebec, where it derailed, exploded, and killed 47 people.

Decontamination work continues to this day at the crash site, but was suspended at noon for a moment of silence. Later in the day, church bells will ring out 47 times at Lac-Mégantic’s St. Agnes Church.

“Two years after Lac-Mégantic, oil trains keep exploding and carbon pollution keeps rising. Oil trains are a disaster for our health, our safety, and our climate.”
—Stop Oil Trains

On every level, recovery in the small community has been challenging. 

The Globe and Mail reports: “Two years on, there’s still a pile of toxic dirt where the centre of Lac-Mégantic used to be.” Reconstruction efforts have moved quickly and without a lot of transparency, the newspaper reports—perhaps too swiftly for citizens who feel they’ve been sidelined from negotiations.

Meanwhile, as the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix noted in an editorial on Monday, “the psychological toll on residents has been profound. A report from the local health department in January revealed that while the community has become closer and more resilient, substance abuse and mental health issues have been major challenges.”

According to the Montreal Gazette, while a memorial mass on Sunday was well-attended, some residents left town for the weekend “to avoid the memories.”

Sunday morning’s ceremony was presided over by Rev. Gilles Baril, who became the town’s new priest in February. The Gazette explains:

On Saturday, about 150 people marched in downtown Lac-Mégantic to voice their opposition to the resumption of oil-train service through the town—scheduled for January 2016. The Gazette reports that they dressed all in white, to contrast the color of “dirty oil,” and chanted: “Say yes to a bypass railway, say no to another oil spill.” Demonstrators lined up elbow-to-elbow on the tracks, and together, symbolically crossed their arms.

Citizens and local elected officials are calling for a new set of tracks that would bypass Lac-Mégantic’s residential sector. “With every passing day, residents are more determined to see it done,” said Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche last week about the bypass railway. “As a municipal council, we consider it a must. Not a week goes by that it’s not brought up.”

Lac-Mégantic residents have good reason to be concerned. As CBC reported on Sunday, “Montreal, Maine and Atlantic—and the company that bought it after it declared bankruptcy—have experienced a number of train derailments since the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.”