Regional Railroad of the Year: Central Maine & Quebec Railway
Years from now, the history books will recount the tragic story of the Lac-Mégantic crude oil train disaster, a wreck that claimed 47 lives and decimated a small, bucolic Canadian village. But if history is to be accurately served, the history books will also recount how a new railroad came in, and did its best to set things right, restoring service, but more important, helping a community get back on its feet.
Thus, the story of our 2016 Regional Railroad of the Year, the Central Maine & Quebec Railway. Here is the CM&Q story, as told by its own people:
Twenty months ago, Railroad Acquisition Holdings (an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group) bought the U.S. and Canadian railroad assets of the bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway and named the new railroad Central Maine & Quebec Railway. Fortress is one of the leading investors in transportation and infrastructure assets and currently has $75 billion under management. Prior to the purchase of CM&Q, Fortress previous rail investments included RailAmerica and Fortress continues to own the Florida East Coast Railway.
CM&Q’s first daunting task was rebuilding the railroad, which at the time of the purchase was severed in the middle following the tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic. Faced with a neglected infrastructure that included more than 230 miles of main line track with restricted speeds of 10 mph, multiple Transport Canada notices and orders, and the formidable goal of earning back the trust of the public, customers, employees and connecting carriers, CM&Q invested in excess of $22 million in track and infrastructure improvements. Those improvements include ties, ballast, rail, surfacing, bridge repairs, weed spraying and culvert replacements.
Recently, CM&Q led the initiative to apply for (along with our partner roads) and was awarded a $20 million TIGER grant that provides funding to rehabilitate approximately 380 (109 on CM&Q) miles of track through Maine, creating more reliable rail service. In total, this is a $37 million public-private partnership. In addition, in January of this year, CM&Q was awarded operation of the state-owned Rockland Subdivision, which adds 58 miles of track to our network.
CM&Q began operations by completely shutting down the railroad for two days in both the U.S. and Canada. These two days were used to introduce the new leadership members to the rest of the team and to teach what we call the “CM&Q Way,” which focuses on the key elements of integrity, safety and “being your brother’s keeper,” productivity, excellence and continuous improvement.
Once the track in Lac-Mégantic was reconnected, CM&Q negotiated a social compact with the town of Lac-Mégantic that included open communication with the Mayor and the promise not to operate hazardous goods through the city until our 2014 capital improvements were completed and we were satisfied that the tracks were safe to handle those commodities.
The transport of hazardous commodities has resumed through the town, but CM&Q is, out of respect for the residents in Lac-Mégantic, not handling crude oil through the town in 2016.
In a recent article in the Bangor Daily News, Conrad Lebrun, Director of Buildings and Projects for Lac-Mégantic, agreed that the Central Maine & Quebec and the city have developed a good working relationship. “It is good,” he said. “We have access to CM&Q representatives. When we need to, we call them and they call us right back and we work issues out well. We expect it to keep going in the future.”
CM&Q has invested heavily in safety and employee training. Employees are trained on an annual basis rather than tri-annually. In July 2015, CM&Q volunteered to be the first railroad to participate in the Railway Association of Canada’s Safety Culture Assessment. This assessment was aimed at understanding what improvements are required within the railway in order to cultivate and maintain a positive safety culture. More than 90% of CM&Q employees (U.S. and Canada), including management, supervisors and tradespeople, participated in the initial safety culture assessment phase.
The results of the survey and focus groups enabled CM&Q to identify and promote safety improvements and enhancements across the company. As a result, CM&Q received the 2015 RAC Annual Safety Award for our participation, leadership and contributions to railway safety.
Safety and training has not stopped with just the employees, since beginning operations CM&Q has reached out to many towns and communities along the railroad and participated in onsite training demonstrations and opportunities.
In June 2015, CM&Q participated with Department of Environmental Protection, the Maine Emergency Management Agency, local firefighters and first responders by providing staff, locomotives and tank cars enabling the agencies to perform a real-life exercise on a derailment with a hazardous chemical.
In an effort to educate local fire departments, CM&Q sponsored three firefighters to attend a Crude by Rail Emergency Response Training program at TTCI in Pueblo, Colo. This training program provided them with basic knowledge, skills and abilities to respond to incidents involving crude by rail.
CM&Q has been working diligently to regain business lost prior to the accident as well as increase business. When operations began, the railroad was handling a little more than 3,000 carloads per quarter. Today we are reaching close to 7,000 carloads, and this has been achieved by providing customers with a dependable and economic transportation option, working with local municipalities and our partner railroads to develop new business opportunities.
CM&Q has made significant progress, and we continue to look to the future to grow business and help our customers improve their reach into the marketplace.