We hardly know any more than we did before
Ed Burkhardt tried his best to explain, but failed
In the comfort of his corporate office in Chicago, the president of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway was saying all sorts of things about the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic.
Not all of what Ed Burkhardt said made supplied many real answers.
He kept denying any responsibility by his railway, but his story kept changing all the time. It was as if he was quoting the latest thing he heard on the radio or in the company cafeteria.
--It was sabotage; and then no it wasn't.
-- It was the fault of local firefighters in Nantes, Quebec, up the line from Lac-Mégantic, who had supposedly left the brakes off the train after putting out a small fire on board one of the locomotives earlier in the night. But then it wasn't.
-- Vandals had boarded the train during the night and released the brakes after firefighters had left the scene. But then they hadn't.
One by one all his explanations were being knocked down.
Burkhardt stayed in his office and refused to show up in Lac-Mégantic to meet the victims and their families and face the music.
Finally, five days after the explosion Burkhardt finally arrived in Lac-Mégantic in short-sleeves to face the residents' palpable anger.
He spoke of his immense sadness, his great remorse, but his expression reflected that of a man lost in confusion, unable any more than anyone else to understand the enormity of what had happened.
Sometimes his answers bordered on stupidity as when he said he hoped residents would not put a bullet into him. Why say such a thing?
Burkhardt is one of the greats of the American railway industry. It was he who put the ailing Wisconsin Central Railway back on its feet, and it was he who saved the little Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway from financial ruin.
But Burkhardt is not a communicator, even less is he a lawyer.
Maybe that's why he candidly announced that the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway takes full blame for what happened. It's all the railway's fault. His lawyers must have been pulling out their hair over that one.
Even the cops or the investigators are not saying that. It could come back to haunt him in court.
Burkhardt was totally unprepared. He said all sorts of things, and constantly kept contradicting himself.
At times, his confusion was more than evident; it was painful.
Here was an American, trying his best before a strange audience, unable to utter a single word in French to explain how he felt. But yet, for some unknown reason he had not bothered to bring along an interpreter help him get his views across.
Burkhardt put the blame for the runaway derailment on his "engineer" for not sufficiently engaging the hand brakes on the train. And then it sounded as if he was praising the engineer for heroics with firemen the night of the tragedy.
He never named the employee but Tom Harding, with 30 years of service with the company was on the train that night, but Burkhardt never identified him by name, only by length of service.
Burkhardt tossed in that the engineer had already been "suspended" without pay. Talk about tarring an employee before he's officially accused.
Ironically, the previous night, Burkhardt had praised Tom Harding, as a hero for helping firefighters from Nantes extinguish the fire.
Burkhardt goes into a speech about how from now on his railway will have two operators on board every train as have most top-line railways and as have urged so many railway experts.
But then he adds off-handedly that having two engineers aboard won't help prevent accidents and may even make things worse. And he doesn't explain any further. Go figure.
In the end, there was so much confusion, and such a twisted, contradictory litany of the events that we did not learn any more from Burkhardt than if he had stayed in Chicago.
It will have to take an inquiry commission to get to the bottom of what really happened the night of the great tragedy in Lac-Mégantic.