Railway had special permission from Harper Govt.

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Permission will be reviewed, likely revoked

The Harper government will have to review the special permission it gave to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway last year to use only a single locomotive operator on its freight trains, even those carrying dangerous materials through towns.

A freight train carrying crude oil and possibly other inflammable materials, exploded in Lac-Mégantic on the night of July 6, killing more than several dozen people and destroying the city center of the historic town.

The tragedy began on a nearby hill after the locomotive operator closed down and locked up his train on the main track leaving it unattended on a gentle slope and went home to bed last Friday night near Nantes, Quebec.

We still do not know the exact cause of the tragedy, but somehow the 72-tanker car freight train slipped its brakes and began a wild, out-of-control ride down the track at break-neck speed into Lac-Mégantic where it jumped the tracks and careened on fire with resulting explosions destroying the centre of the town.

The tragedy has put the Harper government in a difficult position.

It was the Harper government who in May 2012 issued a special permission to the railway company, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway, giving it a special permission to use only a single operator on its freight trains.

It was quite a gift for the company, a great way to save money. The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic is only one of two Canadian railways to receive such permission from the Harper government.

It came after a long battle between the railway and the United Steelworkers Union to prevent staff cuts on trains.

To settle the dispute, the union had finally agreed to submit the matter to the Harper government. Better than going on strike, the union figured. The Harper government surprised everybody by deciding in favor of the railway company.

"It's inexplicable, what they did there," Steelworkers spokesman Daniel Roy told the media this week. "It's the federal government that is accountable to the people for what happened. They did it. "

Union members have been saying for some time that one day the Harper government would have blood on its hands, but many people kept saying the union had been simply using scare tactics in its fight against staffing cuts.

Now it seems that the Ministry of Transport will be forced to abolish the preferential ‘one-operator' policy it gave the railway company a year ago.


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