PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A railroad company whose runaway oil train killed 47 people in Canada was granted permission Thursday to continue its business operations pending the appointment of a bankruptcy trustee.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic lawyers made their first appearance in courtrooms in Bangor and in Montreal a day after the company filed for bankruptcy protection, while Maine’s transportation commissioner said the state will make sure that the company’s rail lines stay open during bankruptcy proceedings.
In Bangor, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Louis Kornreith granted Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd.’s motion to keep operating until a trustee is appointed to oversee the case. The company says it can preserve the value of its assets for an eventual sale if it can maintain its day-to-day operations during bankruptcy.
In Montreal, a Quebec Superior Court judge granted Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Canada Co. creditor protection, a decision expected to increase the value of the company’s assets and speed up the payment process.
The railroad has come under particularly harsh criticism in Canada for the way it’s handled itself since July 6, when an unattended train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, setting off massive explosions that destroyed much of the downtown area and killed the 47 people. Justice Martin Castonguay told a Montreal courtroom on Thursday that the company’s actions have been ‘‘lamentable.’’
‘‘The court is not at all impressed with the conduct of MMA since the start,’’ the judge said.
Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt said in a phone interview that three other railroads that operate in Maine have been contacted to see if they'd be interested in operating MMA’s lines after a bankruptcy trustee is appointed. The lines, he said, are vital to companies that ship products out or bring supplies in by rail.
‘‘You have paper mills, you have chemical plants, you have all these things that rely heavily on rail,’’ Bernhardt said. ‘‘So we have to keep that functioning.’’
In an affidavit filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, MMA Chief Financial Officer Donald Gardner Jr. said the railroad’s monthly revenue has fallen from about $3 million to $1 million since the accident, while its workforce has been cut from 179 workers to 54.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic has 511 miles of track in Maine, Vermont and Quebec.