One Explosive Situation

An industry that writes its own rules leaves us all at risk

You can be forgiven if things get a bit foggy when you think about the Lac-­Mégantic disaster. Nearly six years ago, on a splendid weekend evening in a quiet Quebec village, forty-seven people died after a runaway train loaded with tank cars carrying highly volatile crude oil went off the rails and exploded.

It was the largest disaster on Canadian soil since the Halifax explosion of 1917, and, deservedly, it was a very big story. But then, as is the way of news coverage, the TV satellite trucks and cable news reporters pulled out as the flames died down, leaving the town’s residents to make sense of the tragedy and to try to put their lives back together. For the world outside Lac-­Mégantic, the story has sputtered intermittently in and out of the headlines: Three railway workers were charged with criminal negligence and then acquitted. The rail company carrying the oil that night declared...