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Burkhardt: Lac-Mégantic jurors make right decision NEWSWIRE

By | January 19, 2018

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Ed Burkhardt
Trains file photo
CHICAGO — Ed Burkhardt says jurors in the Lac-Mégantic trial made the right call by finding three former Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railroaders “not guilty” of killing 47 people in July 2013.

“None of these three accused meet the standard of criminal negligence, which is very tight,” Burkhardt, former chairman of the Canadian short line railroad, tells Trains News Wire. “If we put people in prison for making mistakes … and they made some big mistakes there … jails would be full.”

Burkhardt is head of Chicago-based Rail World Inc., which once managed the MM&A, but still manages or works closely with short lines in Colorado, Ohio, Estonia, and Poland.

For Canadians and the media, Burkhardt was the face of the short line in the aftermath of a July 6, 2013, crude oil train derailment and explosion. The wreck killed 47 people and leveled much of downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. Burkhardt went to the Canadian village personally and attempted to answer questions from investigators and the public, but was widely criticized for the style and content of his responses.

The seasoned rail investor takes issue with Canadian government findings that the railroad lacked a safety culture and laid blame squarely on Thomas Harding, the MM&A engineer who failed to apply an adequate number of handbrakes on the train before leaving it unattended.

“I always thought that safety was one of the priorities as a rail manager,” Burkhardt tells Trains. “Whatever you do, we proved that it wasn’t sufficient. It just means doubling down and learning from mistakes.”

He says the railroad he and his company help manage in Poland now has stricter rules enforcement. And that’s just one lesson that he takes to heart.

“We ultimately can’t measure the damage that was done in a monetary sense,” he says of the Lac-Mégantic wreck. “There’s nothing that goes on here that’s ever going to bring back lives.”

13 thoughts on “Burkhardt: Lac-Mégantic jurors make right decision NEWSWIRE

  1. Most railroader use the procedure of 10% plus two car. The companies do not set a direct number but insist the crew do the safe procedure. Mr. Harding should have applied hand brakes on 9 cars which would be 72 brake shoes applied tight against the wheels. Mr. Harding only applied 20 brake shoes against all of the wheels of the 7000 ton trains. It was learned in the trial that when he had applied hand brakes on the oil cars, he was reprimanded to only apply the hand brakes to the engine and the spacer, by company desire. The engines only apply one brake shoe to the whole locomotive and one engine had a broken hand brake. The 20 brake shoes were burned up past Las Megantic. Mr. Harding failed to make a proper tug test to pull against the hand brakes he applied with second notch of the power. He left the automatic engine air brakes applied when he did the tug test. The fire companies all over the nation should learn to never shut down a locomotive and only take orders from a company manager, not a track man. Even with a fire, they don’t know the railroad business and let the tiny fuel line burn as they watch it till the manager arrives. If the company does not have a Train Master, then let the engine burn. That is the railroad business.

  2. Company managers and executives rarely have an understanding of any aspect of company culture because they don’t connect culture to the bottom line. This especially applies to safety culture, as a subset of the larger organizational culture. As I’ve studied it, organizational culture means “how work gets done around here.” The L-M disaster and the brake setting procedure described in the trial shows work gets done below the industry standard. The L-M disaster merely exposed slipshod practices under the most dangerous conditions possible. It’s likely they have gotten away with it before this tragedy. As has been written many times, railroad rules are written in blood and it’s never been more true.

  3. This disgusting thief deserves to be put on trial and imprisoned before he dies of natural causes, which shouldn’t be too long into the new year.

    What a pathetic excuse for a human being.

  4. What was Harry Truman’s motto, “The buck stops here?” Hell I’d be grinning ear to ear if I made bank and was able to skip town scot free after my company killed 47 people. He should be the one in jail because ultimately as CEO he is the company, but executives rarely ever face the music.

  5. Burkhardt is grinning because he got tens-of-millions in his various deals and was not indicted for running s shoe-string operation with few concerns for safety.

    Corporate executives NEVER re held accountable for their crimes.

  6. If Burkhardt and a pack of middle managers from MM&A were also charged, the outcome might (and I stress might) have been different. But, heck, this was Quebec.

  7. It should have been Ed Burkhardt in the dock. When, following the Lac-Mégantic disaster, I heard it was a company run by Burkhardt, I was not at all surprised. It is an unfortunate consequence of running an outfit the way he runs things by cutting things to the bone and cutting corners, leaving no margin for error. I have actual experience of the way Ed Burkhardt runs things. I am a locomotive engineer working for KiwiRail in New Zealand with 41½ years of service, and well remember when the NZ rail system was privatised in the 1990s, with Burkhardt and a bunch of merchant bankers gaining control of the company. They spent the next few years asset-stripping the company and paying huge amounts of cash to themselves, then when they had picked everything to the bone (including selling vast quantities of brand new rails and locomotive parts for scrap), they flicked their shares off to unsuspecting suckers who thought the company was doing really well based on the dividends they were paying to shareholders as well as cash payments. Except that by then it was all based on a house of cards and all of those investors got their fingers burnt. Meanwhile, Burkhardt and his cronies moved on to other targets, their pockets flush with asset-stripping cash.

  8. W. Cook’s comment here is the first time I’ve seen it reported that Harding had been reprimanded in the past for setting brakes on the tanker cars, and told to only set the engine and spacer car brakes. This is extremely significant, and may have been the reason the jury acquitted him.

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