Lac-Megantic, QC — Nearly five years after a train derailed in Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people, the federal and provincial government confirmed a rail bypass Friday that will ensure trains leave the Quebec municipality’s downtown core for good.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard were among those on hand to announce a commitment to build the 12.8-kilometre bypass.
On July 6, 2013, the runaway train carrying crude oil from the United States careened off the track and exploded, killing the 47 people and destroying part of the town centre.
Trudeau said politicians normally are all smiles during such infrastructure announcements, but that wasn’t the case Friday.
“There’s nothing we wouldn’t give to go back in the past and avoid being here today to make this announcement,” Trudeau said. “Obviously, we can’t rewrite history, but we can, together, shape the future.”
The prime minister said many people are still dealing with the ongoing effects of trauma and loss and he hopes the bypass will help the community continue to heal and rebuild.
“No community should have to live through what Lac-Megantic went through, no one should have to suffer the tragic loss of their own,” he said.
The new route that will take rail traffic away from the downtown area was selected following a feasibility study commissioned by the municipality.
While the estimated cost is $133 million, the next phase of the study will clarify the final cost of the bypass.
The federal government will assume 60 per cent of the cost, with Quebec taking on the remaining 40 per cent.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the project will encompass 80 pieces of privately owned land. The federal government will approach each of the owners and come to an agreement with them in terms of the value of their property.
Trudeau, meanwhile, was asked about people in neighbouring towns who are opposed to the bypass.
“There are strong emotions regarding what happened, obviously a lot of mourning that continues, a lot of difficult years that have passed and will continue,” he said.
“When you move a rail line, you’re moving it from somewhere to somewhere else. There are private lands all around this place and there’s no question that there’s going to be people impacted when you move a rail line.
“(But) we’ve chosen a path that we all believe is the right one to move forward on.”
Couillard said a balance had to be struck in choosing the path.
“It shouldn’t be too close because people want it to move away from the downtown part of Lac Megantic, but it shouldn’t be too far because it’s also economically crucial for the region, for the city, that it remains close to the industrial park,” he said.
Couillard also said that despite the goodwill of all those involved, a project of this magnitude could not be improvised.
He called the long-sought bypass an exceptional response to an exceptional situation.
Additionally, the federal government has reached a deal with the Central Maine & Quebec Railway, which will own and operate the new infrastructure.