Lac-Megantic, QC — A commemorative church service will be held in Lac-Megantic on Friday to mark the five-year-anniversary of the train derailment that killed 47 people and destroyed part of downtown.
Church bells will ring around noon to remember the victims who lost their lives on July 6, 2013, after a runaway train hauling tanker cars loaded with volatile crude oil barrelled into the town of 6,000, derailed and exploded.
The service is part of a series of events being held through Sunday to commemorate the tragedy.
The town has been slowly rebuilding since the derailment, but many in the area still suffer from post-traumatic stress, according to a 2017 government study.
Citizens say some of their stress will be alleviated now that the federal and provincial governments have agreed to fund a 12.8-kilometre bypass track that will take rail traffic away from the downtown area, hopefully by 2022.
Three former employees of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, the defunct railway company at the heart of the disaster, were found not guilty of criminal negligence by a jury last January.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement offering support to citizens marking the grim anniversary of the deadliest rail disaster in modern Canadian history.
“Today, we remember the victims, and our thoughts go out to all those whose lives were forever changed,” Trudeau said.
“The tragedy left scars that cannot be erased — but in the weeks, months, and years that followed, Lac-Megantic became a symbol of hope, determination, and solidarity. Today, the people of Lac-Megantic continue to show resilience and courage as they rebuild their community.”
Timeline of Lac Megantic events on fifth anniversary of tragedy
JULY 6, 2013:
An unattended train with five locomotives and more than 70 tank cars carrying crude oil rolls down an incline before coming off the tracks in Lac-Megantic, Que. The derailment causes a series of explosions that sends fireballs up into the air. The downtown core is eviscerated, with a bustling bar, the library, and a cherished waterside park among the dozens of structures destroyed. Officials evacuate nearby homes and say at least one person has died.
JULY 7, 2013:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits Lac-Megantic, describing the area as a war zone and offering federal relief to rebuild the town. Police officially raise the death toll to five while estimating at least 40 people are still unaccounted for. Train operator Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway issues a statement saying the locomotive was shut down after the departure of the engineer and this may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place.
JULY 8, 2013:
The Federal Transportation Safety Board and Quebec provincial police announce they will separately investigate the derailment. Firefighters from nearby Nantes say they had been called to fight a fire on board the train hours before it came off the tracks in Lac-Megantic. The rail company suggests the decision to shut off the locomotive to put out the fire might have disabled the brakes, but the fire chief says shutting the engine off was standard procedure dictated by the railway. Officials raise the death toll to 13, while the Queen issues a statement expressing condolences.
JULY 9, 2013:
Quebec police announce they are treating the derailment site as a crime scene and float the possibility of laying criminal negligence charges. About 1,200 residents are allowed to return home.
JULY 10, 2013:
Montreal Maine and Atlantic chairman Edward Burkhardt visits Lac-Megantic, where he is greeted by angry hecklers blaming him and his company for the disaster. He says the engineer in charge of the train has been suspended. Police raise the official death toll to 20, adding they expect a total of close to 50 victims. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois announces the province will lower all flags to half-mast for a week and says the government will offer the town $60 million in aid.
JULY 11, 2013:
Marois makes an official visit to the town as her municipal counterpart lashes out at rail officials. Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy Laroche criticizes Burkhardt, alleging he cancelled a planned meeting with her during his visit to the town. About 600 evacuated residents are allowed to return home.
JULY 12, 2013:
The Transportation Safety Board describes the Lac-Megantic disaster as potentially the worst in Canadian history, adding it will take months to investigate. Residents hold a candlelight vigil in town.
JULY 19, 2013:
The Transportation Safety Board takes the unusual step of recommending two immediate changes to rail safety despite the fact its investigation is not over. The board recommends that dangerous goods should not be left unattended on a main track and also that rail equipment be properly secured. Rock legend Paul McCartney reaches out to Lac-Megantic residents by offering free tickets to an upcoming show in Quebec City.
JULY 22, 2013:
The federal government matches provincial aid efforts by announcing a $60-million fund to help Lac-Megantic rebuild. In the United States, a wrongful-death lawsuit is filed in an Illinois court against MMA and its parent company, Burkhardt and several U.S. petroleum companies linked to the disaster. An Illinois lawyer, who filed the court documents on behalf of the family of a Lac-Megantic man killed by the derailment, says he expects to present many more similar suits that could seek millions in damages from the defendants.
JULY 23, 2013:
Transport Canada issues new safety directives that take effect immediately. The new rules state at least two crew members must work trains that carry dangerous goods. In addition, no locomotive attached to one or more loaded tank cars transporting dangerous materials can be left unattended on a main track.
JULY 25, 2013:
Police begin conducting an investigation at an MMA office in Farnham, Que., but decline to discuss details.
JULY 27, 2013:
Lac-Megantic holds a memorial ceremony for the 47 victims of the disaster.
SEPT. 11, 2013:
The Transportation Safety Board says the crude oil that exploded into flames in the train derailment was as volatile as gasoline, but was documented as a less-dangerous product akin to diesel or bunker crude.
NOV. 21, 2013:
Ottawa and Quebec announce they will split the estimated $190-milion price tag to decontaminate Lac-Megantic.
DEC. 13, 2013:
Transport Canada says it has obtained a warrant to search the offices of Irving Oil in Saint John, N.B., in connection with the tragedy.
DEC. 18, 2013:
Rail service resumes in Lac-Megantic under stricter safety conditions. On the same day, a U.S. judge gives the green light for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to be auctioned off.
JAN. 21, 2014:
Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway is sold in a closed-door auction for US$14.25 million. The purchaser is later revealed to be Railroad Acquisition Holdings, an affiliate of New York-based Fortress Investment Group.
JAN. 23, 2014:
The Transportation Safety Board says Ottawa needs to take urgent action to pull outdated and unsafe rail cars from Canada’s tracks, as well as reassess the safety of all potential routes used to transport dangerous goods.
FEB. 13, 2014:
Survivors of the rail disaster announce they’re expanding their class action lawsuit to include the federal government. The suit alleges Ottawa neglected to sanction the rail company after the disaster and continued to do business with them despite a dubious safety record.
APRIL 23, 2014:
The federal government pledges to pull all old tank cars, known as DOT-111s, off Canada’s rails over the next few years. The promise involves removing up to 5,000 of the cars from the tracks within a month.
MAY 12, 2014:
Prosecutors in Quebec lay 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death against the rail company and three of its employees. Driver Thomas Harding, traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre are all charged.
AUG. 19, 2014:
The Transportation Safety Board releases its final report, saying MMA had a weak safety culture and that Transport Canada did not audit the company often or thoroughly enough.
OCT. 2, 2017:
The trial for Harding, Labrie and Demaitre begins.
JAN. 11, 2018:
Jurors begin deliberating.
JAN. 19, 2018:
The three men are acquitted of all charges on the ninth day of jury deliberations.
APRIL 3, 2018:
The Crown announces that Montreal Maine and Atlantic will not have to stand trial for criminal negligence as there was little chance of convicting the bankrupt railway.
MAY 11, 2018:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announce plans for a 12.8-kilometre rail bypass to ensure trains leave downtown Lac-Megantic for good. The plan is to have it ready by 2022.
JULY 6, 2018:
A special mass is held to mark the five-year anniversary of the tragedy.