MMA Railway to Stop Transporting Oil after Quebec Crash

August 7, 2013

The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway company will stop transporting oil after a runaway oil tanker train derailed and exploded in a small Quebec town last month, killing 47 people, MMA Chairman Ed Burkhardt said in a newspaper interview.

“We don’t plan to continue with oil transportation. That traffic is going to go other ways, not over our lines,” Burkhardt is quoted as saying in the Montreal Gazette on Monday.

MMA owns 510 miles (820 kilometers) of track in Maine, Vermont and Quebec, according to its website.

When the train crashed on July 6 in Lac-Megantic, MMA was hauling about 50,000 barrels of crude oil that originated in the Bakken fields of North Dakota and was destined to a refinery in New Brunswick, on Canada’s Atlantic coast.

Alternatives to get crude to New Brunswick might include more imports, using other rail lines or tankers from the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada Corp announced plans last week for a pipeline from Alberta in western Canada to the Atlantic, but that would not be in full service until 2018.

Burkhardt said MMA plans to resume rail service soon on the undamaged tracks that run near Lac-Megantic, and that it would be transporting items like paper, wood, pulp, logs and automobiles.

Burkhardt’s office and other MMA officials did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting a comment.

With the end of the oil-transport, MMA’s financial stresses could worsen. In numerous media interviews in the past weeks, Burkhardt has allowed for the possibility his company could go bankrupt as operations were cut and legal and cleanup costs rise.

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Tuesday that Burkhardt had jumped at the opportunity in 2012 to start hauling oil after a decade of financial troubles and struggles with his core forestry products customers. Within a year, he was turning a profit due to the oil transport business, the Globe reported.

Investigators into the Lac-Megantic tragedy have said it was too early to determine what caused the crash, North America’s worst rail disaster in two decades. Two big questions are whether the lone engineer applied sufficient hand brakes when he parked the train for the night and why the fuel in the rail cars was so volatile, creating huge explosions and a deadly wall of fire after derailing.

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