Breakfast with the most hated man in Lac-Mégantic

In conversation with Rail World Inc. president Edward Burkhardt


Paul Chiasson/CP

Edward Burkhardt, the most hated man in Lac-Mégantic, sits down alone for breakfast. It has been five days since he got a phone call at the break of dawn with the news. A runaway train belonging to his company, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Inc., derailed and set off a devastating explosion killing at least 20 people. Another 30 are still missing.

Wearing a beige collared-shirt on Thursday morning in the lobby of a Sherbrooke hotel, a 90-minute drive from the site of the explosion, the 76-year-old president of Rail World Inc.—the parent company of MM&A–is largely unrecognized. It’s shortly after 8:30 a.m. He eats Bran Flakes from a Styrofoam bowl.

The scene is completely unlike the day before, when Burkhardt arrived in Lac-Mégantic for the first time since the explosion. He soon became the target of taunts, jeers and even death threats from residents, who were angered by his seemingly cavalier attitude to the tragedy.

Burkhardt told the pack of journalists swarming him that he felt he could be of more assistance from his office, in Chicago, Illinois. Residents disagreed. As he toured the downtown area on Wednesday one man followed and kept yelling at him: “You’re a rat.”

At breakfast, Burkhardt says he wasn’t surprised by the displeasure from citizens. “I expected a certain amount of beating,” he says. “Everyone was shouting.”

Burkhardt still wants the chance to speak with city officials, but he isn’t sure if he’ll visit Polyvalente Montignac secondary school, where those who are still unable to return home sleep on cots in the gymnasium. “I was suggested not to [visit the school] by employees and the town government,” he says.

Burkhardt had drawn criticism for forwarding the responsibility for the explosion on to others. He told the Toronto Star earlier in the week that it was the fire department shutting off the train’s engine to fight earlier flames that resulted in the brake failure an hour later. He also said that the conductor failed to apply all 11 hand brakes.

“I’ve been pointed out as blaming the engineer, blaming the fire department that shut down the engine. That’s not my intention at all,” he says. “My intention is to try and get the facts and the biggest fact of all that we have to confront is that this train ran away.”

All the while, he is steadfast that his company should not shoulder all the blame. “The words corporate responsibility are used from time to time, but what I think you generally find is that when mistakes are made… then it’s people that did it,” he says. “A corporation is a bank account in a lock box at the post office. It doesn’t do things. People do things.” Burkhardt adds that he hasn’t personally spoken with the engineer of the train that night, but told journalists the day before the company has suspended the man without pay.

Burkhardt reflects on his previous afternoon in Lac-Mégantic, where reporters approached him while he was sitting alone in the passenger seat of an old silver Ford Taurus with a license plate from Maine. The trunk was full with hard hats and construction boots. A purple lunch box was squished between the two front seats with a Starbucks coffee and bottle of water in the cupholders. Burkhardt remained quiet and unflinching. He didn’t say a word. The back seat was messy with a box of Oreos on the floor and stacks of day-old Globe and Mail newspapers. Missing was the more recent copy of the Globe, the one reporting that Burkhardt has dealt with the derailment of a train carrying gas and propane catching fire before, 17 years ago while in charge of Wisconsin Central. The damage then to Weyauwega, Wis. forced thousands to evacuate and destroyed a mill, according to the report.

When president and CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Inc., Robert Grindrod, jumped in the driver’s seat and an assistant got in the back, reporters followed in their cars.

“It was like the paparazzi,” Burkhardt says. Grindrod quickly looped back to the police station. About 45 minutes later, the car left again, weaving back and forth—though never speeding—through the quiet streets of Lac-Mégantic, in an apparent attempt to lose the cars tailing them. Burkhardt had no interest in any more talk with reporters that day.

With his cereal finished and now munching on bite-size bits of pineapple and melon, Burkhardt says some of his comments from the day prior have been taken out of context by journalists. “People asked me how I was able to sleep and I made a comment… that if you’re tired, eventually you’ll sleep,” he says. “Well I hadn’t slept for two nights. The other night I did get some sleep—with [sleeping] pills.”

Another journalist on the prior day asked the 1999 “Railroader of the Year”—according to Railway Age magazine—how much he was worth. “Maybe I said the wrong thing. I’m not perfect,” Burkhadt starts.

“I said ‘I’m worth a lot less now than I was last week.’ Well, this is true, but I wasn’t a wealthy man last week and I’m a less wealthy man this week,” he adds with a small laugh at the end.

When asked about his family, he talks about his wife, who worries for him. “She’s very distraught,” he says. “I tell her: ‘I’m a tough old guy at this point.’”

He folds up his napkin, places it his bowl, stands up and leaves for his room. Within 10 minutes, more cameramen and journalists file into the lobby.

Asked how long he’ll be in town, Burkhardt answers: “I’m staying here awhile.”

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Breakfast with the most hated man in Lac-Mégantic

  1. One has to wonder what the TSB investigators have/ or will find in the data from the locomotives black box and the FRED (another black box) from the last tanker car of the unit?

    The questions still remain as to how the locomotives became detached from the tanker cars and why the locomotives stopped on the tracks more than a kilometer away from the accident scene?

    • How the locomotives became detached from the tank cars is somewhat irrelevant- the train was eastbound and the locos were in front. Seems they successfully navigated the wye in downtown Megantic but the tank cars did not. Once the tank cars left the rails and began piling up I suspect it was just a broken coupler that separated the locomotives from the rest of the train.

      • How the locomotives became detached from the tank cars is somewhat irrelevant?

        Earth to Dave………..

        • The entire train, locomotives AND tank cars, left Nantes still coupled, then became uncoupled once a large number of tank cars left the tracks. It was an eastbound train, not westbound.

          • The locomotives ended up stopped on the tracks over one kilometer from the accident scene.

          • Yes, to the east of Megantic. No surprises. It came uncoupled from the tankers and continued to roll unattended until it encountered the grade leaving town. None of this surprises me, but I have a bit of a train fetish :)

          • So do you think it s intact – was it far enough away from the inferno? And would this be the same locomotive that had the fire prior to the runaway?

          • There were actually 4 or 5 locomotives on the train- yes one of them had the fire. What a lot of train nuts like me think is that the driver ‘bottled the air’ that is left the trainline charged (and thus the airbrakes off) then set the independent (or engine) brake and maybe 5 or 10 handbrakes. When the fire department shutoff the unit on fire, the independent brakes stopped working and eventually the total weight of the tank cars started pushing the train towards Megantic. i.e. it was the fault of the driver. Why did the driver bottle the air? Probably because the next crew would not have to wait the necessary 30 minutes or so to charge up the trainline. All pure speculation of course.

            If you’re interested, here’s where train geeks like me hang out-


            Lots of knowledgeable discussion about probable causes.

            And no politics so even Billy Bob will feel welcomed there!


          • Lac-Megantic, Quebec (CNN) — Canadian authorities
            have found evidence that a criminal act may have led to a train crash in
            Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed at least 15 people, provincial police
            Capt. Michel Forget said Tuesday.

            There have been many
            questions about the crash and explosion that wiped out a swath of the
            town 130 miles east of Montreal. As of Tuesday evening, 35 people were
            still missing, Forget said.

            Authorities offered no further details about the case but said it was not caused by terrorism.

            “I will not speculate on the elements that we have recovered,” Forget told reporters.

          • Good read Dave, the last few posts are right on.

            There’s one in their that mentions a local who was interviewed by some newspaper, this fellow lives in an off the grid cabin by the tracks (a loner?), this guy said he saw the train roll by that night


          • Is that a Peterborough thing?

            My point is that everyone should and let the TSB and the police do their jobs, the leftists, the media party and the opposition should stop with the cheap politicking.

          • How is Dave politicing? If you don’t want to talk about this, stop talking about this.

          • You’re as vapid as Justin Trudeau, I wasn’t talking about Dave, I was talking about the leftists, the media party and the opposition.

            Get a grip there Mary Jane.

            By the way, it was just announced that the Montreal Police and the Quebec Provincial Police will be joining the criminal investigation on Monday.

          • Dave offered you an explanation, and you respond like that? And now your main point is something other than your question?

            Billy Bob. You’ve done a great job of displaying the arrogance of a politician, the antics of a schoolyard bully, and the ability to effectively misdirect any point you are trying to make by being so sanctimonious.

            I recommend thinking and typing less.

          • Hey Coaster, you can shove your opinion up your ass;

            Lac-Megantic, Quebec (CNN) — Canadian authorities
            have found evidence that a criminal act may have led to a train crash in
            Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed at least 15 people, provincial police
            Capt. Michel Forget said Tuesday.

            There have been many
            questions about the crash and explosion that wiped out a swath of the
            town 130 miles east of Montreal. As of Tuesday evening, 35 people were
            still missing, Forget said.

            Authorities offered no further details about the case but said it was not caused by terrorism.

            “I will not speculate on the elements that we have recovered,” Forget told reporters.

          • Great work. It’s OK for right wing, politically angled sources to speculate but not leftard, weed smoking, tree huggers?

            Do as you say, not as you do.

          • CNN is right wing?

            The source was QPP Capt. Michel Forget.

    • Obviously, the TSB are a bunch of leftard, weed-smoking anrchists, eh, Billy Bob?

      • No, the likes of you are.

    • A question I’d like to have answered is whether MM&A will be allowed to operate in Canada pending the TSB outcome.

    • It was just announced that the police have ruled out human error.

  2. Canadian Law: The company is responsible for the acts of its employees.

    • Until the TSB completes it’s investigation and releases it’s report we will not know if it was a company employees actions, those of the firefighters, a combination of those or possibly someone else.

    • I’m not a lawyer but my understanding is that in civil matters, if the employees broke no company rules or acted per management’s direction, that’s correct, but it differs for criminal matters, which could be at play here.

    • No explosion happened, learn how to read and comprehend, from the link you provided;

      The Wisconsin blaze,
      caused by large amounts of propane and liquefied petroleum gas in the
      derailed train cars, burned for two weeks and it was “sheer luck” there
      were no deaths or injuries, said Jim Baehnman, assistant fire chief at
      the time.

      “We were concerned about a large explosion that would wreak havoc,” he told the Star in a phone interview.

      About 3,000 people in the community were evacuated for more than three weeks, he said.

      But he said the townspeople were grateful for the help and support they received from Burkhardt and his railway.

        • Lenny, there was no explosion……… : )

          • Read it again.

          • Do you even know the difference between gas venting and burning rapidly from a rupture and an explosion?

            The witness to that episode would not be alive if there had been an explosion.

          • So the feed mill didn’t blow up?

          • The feed mill did not blow up.


          • Can’t be people disagree without insulting one another!

          • Heh.
            I thought the smilely meant you were making fun of your own goal.

            I’ll take eyewitness accounts, the NTSB report, and my own experience of witnessing explosions of various sizes from a variety of distances and still being alive, over the word of “Billy bob”, thanks.

          • The derailment resulted in
            release of hazardous material that
            and consumed
            the cars loaded with LPG and propane. The fire
            local feed mill building.

          • Page 3, top of the page – note that explosion has been ticked off.

          • That’s from the NTSB report you just linked to

          • Yup, no denying there was a fire. That’s why both “fire” and “explosion” were checked off on the checklist.

          • OOh, it was ticked off………on a checklist…..ooh………I’ll go with the written description of the event.

          • Right. Just the part were “explosion” isn’t written.
            Your capacity for self-delusion is boundless.

          • Self delusion?

            Excuse me?

            To quote you Lenny, “my own experience of witnessing explosions of various sizes from a variety of distances and still being alive”

            So you’ve been around several explosions have you?

            The RCMP might be interested in that.

          • Sure bob, give them a call.

            While you’re talking to them, but sure to list the names of everyone you know who’s ever been near a discharged firearm, firecracker, roadblasting, fireworks display, mining operation, etc.
            They’ll really value your call, bob.

          • I’ll just direct them to your posts.

      • If you’d been on the Titanic you would have been telling passengers that being closer to the ocean would making swimming easier from the upper decks.

        • Keep on smoking that weed Mary Jane.

          • Thankless work you are doing, trying to minimize horrific train derailments with trivial technicalities. I have to admire your tenacity.

          • Minimize?

            You’re nuts.

            Wait for the TSB report on the Lac-Mégantic incident before jumping to leftwingnut lunatic conclusions.

            The media are a disgrace with their reporting thus far.

          • Yes, minimize. Maybe you don’t understand the meaning of the word.

          • There you go again, displaying your stupidity for everyone to see.

          • Whose stupidity?

          • Looks like Mary Jane has company in the stupid ward.

          • What does this have to due with being leftwing or not? Do you think party affiliation really matters to the dead, the injured, or their families? The TSB and the courts will assign resposibility for this disaster based on the facts and the law.

          • What does this have to due with being leftwing or not? Ask Mulcair that question.

            Do you think party affiliation really matters to the dead, the injured, or their families? No

            The police just announced that hey have ruled out human error.

  3. The essence of this tragedy lies in allowing only one engineer to be responsible for a train carrying some 70 thin skinned tanker cars filled with crude oil as it was driven across Canada. The company asked the Federal Government for permission to use only one person on the train, and the Conservative Government’s Transport Department acquiesced.

    • Is JW really Tommie the Commie French Citizen Mulcair?

      • Yep!

        • Welcome, comrade!

    • The Transport Canada presser was disturbing. When questioned the panel kept saying there wasn’t a rule – just this vague notion of compliance to vaguer safety standards. So the company saying it can operate safely with only one engineer gets a pass.

    • Technically there is no reason for a through train (a train that does not stop and pickup/drop off cars) to have multi-person crews. One man is enough. That being said, that one man, exhausted at the end of a 12 hour shift, could really have used some help tying down cars!

      • what if the one man has a heart attack, or gets injured along the way? No one to drive the train

        • Well sure that COULD happen, but trains have only had a single driver in the cab for, well, centuries now. The guy accompanying the driver, be it the fireman/stoker in the old days, or conductor/brakeman nowadays, is usually not certified to operate the train. Mind you, they can STOP the train if necessary. The other truth is that every engine has what’s called a reset or dead-man’s switch/pedal which needs to either be depressed or clicked once every 2 minutes or so or the train goes into emergency (i.e every freaking brake comes on- both the engines and the trainline). Should an engineer have a massive stroke, the train will stop at most a minute or two later.

  4. Did he use single ply or double ply toilet paper?

    Wash his hands?

  5. I love how not one person has said anything about where the crude oil was going. as far as I know, there is only one refinery in atlantic canada and that happens to be owned by Irving. and on top of that, one of Irvings subsidiary companys bought MMA, did they not? seems fishey that this accident happened and not even a day after, if that, Irving shuts the refinery down for an emergency shut down. Too much of a coincidence if you ask me.

    • Any link on the possible Irving purchase of MMA?

      • i may be wrong on the purchase, but i was right on the oil being destined for the refinery here. link is scroll down and you’ll see a post about the accident in Lac-Megantic.

        • It was reported almost immediately that it was going to Irving. I wonder of they have any legal liabibilty here. Maybe somebody with the legal knowledge necessary would know.

          • None, however they did invest in the MMA. The amount of shares equivalent to about 13% of the railway company. So they are both a victim, and an owner.

          • So who owns the oil while it’s in transit?

          • That’s a really good question Jan. The only way to actually determine that is to look at a bill of lading, plus the relevant shipping documents. Is the Free On Board(FOB): Is it the shippers dock or the receiver’s dock. Irving owns a myriad of smaller companies. Irving oil needs about six or seven trains to operate on a daily basis. Usually, and I do emphasize usually, the ownership belongs to the shipper but the liability belongs to the transport mode.

            …So in this case, while the oil belongs to someone else, the liability belongs to the MMA. Railway. For everything, the terrible damage, the toll of life, and the value of the lost oil. This is probably why the hapless engineer is going to get framed for doing his job.
            …The Railway insurer would likely not pay the claim if the Nantes Volunteer Fire Department didn’t call in the engineer before they left the scene. Then the liability for the accident falls totally upon the town of Nantes.
            …The very last people to touch that train is the fire department. Keep that in mind all through this. But in the fire code, usually fire men cannot be charged or found liable for anything. So that is why the province is so hot to trot about laying the blame on the railroad engineer. He is totally out gunned, out manned and out of luck totally.

          • Thanks for displaying your abject stupidity……… : )

          • And you BB, for your appalling ignorance.

  6. “The train was left unattended during the scheduled shift change that
    occurs at that location, and while it was sitting on the tracks, a
    passerby reportedly spotted a fire on the train and called the fire

    If I were an investigator or police I would be wanting to interview that passerby.

    • Brilliant call, BB. I bet you they hadn’t thought of that.

      • Go smoke another joint you leftard.

        • Just knocking them out of the park today, Billy.

          • How did you know I was at the park?

          • Leftard intuition.

          • Well, you better take that leftard intuition in for a tune up, I wasn’t at the park.

  7. Is Billy Bob kicked out yet?

    • That’s all you leftards have is it, censorship?

      And here I thought you were the champions of free speech………guess that’s only when people agree with you.

      • Trolling comments on a news article about a tragedy is something you should be ashamed of. I’ll smoke a joint to that.

  8. Teaching Unions are notorious for protecting the jobs of people who
    perform poorly or misbehave at work, especially if they are sex
    offenders like V ivian M avrou. Nowhere is this more evident than in
    Toronto’s public education system. Thanks to the lengthy process to
    dismiss incompetent and abusive teachers, V ivian M avrou and other
    unethical teachers like Gordy Stefulic and V arla A brams remain employed
    while law-abiding teachers in the lower ranks of the pyramid are faced
    with reduced teaching hours and job losses

    Teachers unions also
    oppose merit pay plans, claiming whether students do well in class is
    entirely out of their control, when studies show teacher quality is the
    biggest determining factor in how much students learn. V ivian M avrou,
    who was the former Vice Principal of Silverthorn Collegiate, had
    negotiated with a school bully to have sex with her in exchange of no
    suspension over his conduct in bullying students.

    Union attitudes
    towards achievement are a turn off to people who might otherwise
    consider the teaching profession. A world where the good teachers make
    as much as the bad teachers is not one which will attract the best
    quality employees. To suffice, the budget cuts that the Toronto District
    School Board is trying to prevent in the 2013 and 2014 school year
    discriminates as the lower paid teachers are the first to be affected by
    the job losses rather than senior teachers who are given more
    protection by the teaching unions.

  9. A few days ago Burkhardt said,on Canada AM, that his company had people checking out the wreck before the TSB got to it. Why didn’t the reporters ask him why they were at the wreck?

  10. Mr. Burkhardt owns a railroad, but he “wasn’t a wealthy man” the week
    before the accident “and I’m a less wealthy man this week”? This being
    one of the most deadly rail disasters in Canadian history and he is
    worried about being perceived as a wealthy business owner, which he
    undoubtedly is. He doesn’t need better public relations; he needs to get
    a conscience.

    • This isn’t about right or left to you?

      You’re just another full of crap leftist turd.

      • Stop being abusive to everyone with whom you have a disagreement. It is very rude, contributes nothing to the discussion, discredits your own opinions, and depicts you as nothing more than a bully. I hope you are a better man than that.

        • Quit your whining, if you can’t take the heat………

          • Quit your trolling if you can’t get a life.

    • Perhaps even worse was the idiot reporter who asked a deliberate, loaded question. As with much of the media, he too was playing his own vicious game in order to get a reaction. Pure sleaze!

  11. When was the last time a CEO from an airline showed up at a crash site to make good with the people?
    When was the last time a ship manufacturer showed up to make good with the people at a cruise line sinking?
    When did the CEO of Carnival show up at the last disaster?
    When was the last time a pipeline CEO showed up at a leak and an environmental disaster?
    Like him or not, I have the feeling this guy cares and is not playing political games.
    I give him credit for doing what he is doing.
    And taking a pot full of crap from everyone who wants to take a shot at him.
    He may be the company leader, but I do not think he is the guy who pulled the trigger – but the world needs a whipping boy and he is it.
    I best he wants the answers as much as anyone.
    I think this CEO is for real.

    • The Korean CEO of Asiana Air was in San Francisco offering his apologies less than 24 hours after his company’s Boeing 777 crashed at SFO.

  12. @Billy Bob Did you pick this name as an homage to your closely related parents?
    -from everyone