Handbrakes were insufficiently applied to the 79-railcar train that derailed and exploded in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Que., say court documents made public Friday afternoon.
The documents, which are redacted police reports that the Quebec provincial police used to lay charges against MM&A Railway and three of its employees, state that locomotive engineer Thomas Harding applied seven handbrakes. That information comes from the statement Harding gave to police on July 6, following the derailment.
MM&A rules require nine handbrakes to be applied for a train with 70 to 79 railcars.
Some experts say that because the train was parked on a slope, 15 handbrakes should have been applied.
The police documents also state that, contrary to the recommended procedure, no manual brakes were applied on any of the 72 oil-filled cars.
In May, MM&A and three of its employees — including Harding — were each charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.
Lac-Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said the unsealed documents provide some answers.
“It will be up to the judge or jury to identify [Harding’s] level of responsibility. Why did he react in that manner? But at the same time, he’s a human being. We can’t overlook that today, he must be suffering for his mistakes. But at the same time justice must be served,” Roy-Laroche said.
The three accused — Harding, manager of train operations Jean Demaitre, and the railway's traffic controller Richard Labrie — were released and await trial.
An accident waiting to happen: MM&A employees
The unsealed documents obtained by CBC News include the summary of interviews done by police.
Investigators took statements from several MM&A employees, who reported several problems such as tracks in poor condition.
Some said they were expecting a disaster to happen one day.
The police statements also show that after a fire ignited in one of the wagons, Harding — who was at a hotel resting for the night — offered to go back to the site, but MM&A told him not to return and sent a foreman instead.
The police report states that the foreman did not have the knowledge required to ensure that the locomotive was properly parked — and neither the foreman nor the firefighters knew that turning off the engine would cut off the supply of the air brakes.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.