Montreal, ON — Robert Bellefleur was about 100 kilometres west of Lac-Megantic on the night an oil-laden train derailed in his hometown five years ago and killed 47 people.
He swears had he been home that night, he would have been sitting at the Musi-Cafe, a popular downtown bar and venue where many of the victims died.
Since the tragedy, Bellefleur has fought for government financing to build a bypass track that would redirect trains away from the downtown core.
On Tuesday, he rejoiced at news the federal government would be paying 60 per cent of the costs to start building one in 2019, with Quebec taking on the remaining 40 per cent.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau will visit Lac-Megantic on Friday to make the announcement official, sources told The Canadian Press.
“This morning I got a call from a city councillor confirming the news,” said Bellefleur, the spokesman for the citizens group that has been calling for the bypass track. “This is very, very good news. We’ve been waiting for this for five years.”
The price tag for the 11-kilometre bypass is estimated at $133 million.
In January, Garneau urged the Couillard government to do its part to make the project a reality.
On July 6, 2013, a unmanned train parked on a slope in the nearby town of Nantes began moving on its own after the locomotive’s engineer failed to apply sufficient brakes on the convoy.
The engineer, Tom Harding, and two other railway employees were put on trial for criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people and were found not guilty last January.
Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, the bankrupt company that employed the three accused and owned the train that derailed, did not stand trial.
The Crown said there was little chance of convicting the company.
While Bellefleur is happy at the latest news, he lamented how long it has taken to secure funding to build the bypass track.
He said residents are still traumatized and that Lac-Megantic’s economy hasn’t recovered.
“Lac-Megantic is not what it was,” said Bellefleur, whose father and grandfather worked on the town’s railway. “Much of the downtown is not reconstructed, the liveliness has not returned and people are bitter.”
And the famous Musi-Cafe, rebuilt after the tragedy, is being sold, Bellefleur said.
“The train started up again four months after the tragedy,” he said. “Imagine someone getting bit in the face by a pit bull and having to walk dogs every night.
“We see the trains every night, every day. We need to get the trains away from downtown to give people hope for the future.”