Lawsuit: Chicago-based MMA Railway 'worst in North America'

February 13, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Victims of a fiery derailment are suing the Ottawa government for allowing MMA Railway to transport explosive freight, even though the Chicago company had the worst safety record in North America.

The Canadian class action lawsuit alleges that Chicago-based MMA Railway had been in at least 129 accidents in Canada since 2003, making it the worst freight train offender on the continent. The suit was filed on behalf of 47 people who were killed in the latest derailment last July and those who were injured. The suit claims that Canadian transportation officials knew about MMA's repeated safety violations but did little to correct them.

The lawsuit targets Chicago rail executive Ed Burkhardt, the chairman of MMA-- and his train engineer who was on duty that night last summer. Tankers of crude oil broke loose, ran off the rails, ruptured and blew up-leveling the resort town of Lac-Megantic.

The suit has also added as a defendant the attorney general of Canada-- who has regulatory powers over the rail industry.

It was this accident that focused attention on antiquated tanker cars and their propensity to split open in collisions.

As the I-Team first reported last fall, U.S. rail safety investigators determined these tankers known as DOT-111's to be unsafe 20 years ago and recommended changes that were never made.

Since then, as U.S. and Canadian officials work on a permanent fix, the accidents keep happening. Near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is the latest. About 8 o'clock Thursday morning 21 tanker cars derailed on a freight train carrying crude oil and propane.

Some of the tankers rode up into a nearby commercial building, slamming into the structure. Employees were evacuated but no one reported hurt. Some oil, so thick it had to be lifted by shovels, did leak-- but there was no fire or explosion this time.

Thursday night at 10 p.m. on Eyewitness News, the I-Team uncovers a new risk on the rails around Chicago: evidence that a back-room deal could mean potentially explosive freight trains will be re-routed from Chicago to the suburbs.

Some suburban mayors are furious about the plan to send more of those tankers filled with hazardous freight through their downtowns. One says he's already seen an increase. The I-Team will have more on that at 10 p.m. Thursday.

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