Last week, CCAN invited oil train activist Marilaine Savard down to our region to attend a series of events. Marilaine is from Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and unintentionally became an activist and spokesperson to stop oil trains across the country. That’s because she lived through the deadliest oil train disaster in history. In July 2013, Lac-Megantic was changed forever, when an unattended 74-car crude oil train derailed and exploded in their small town, killing 47 people. Since then, she has advocated for rail safety and climate justice in the San Francisco Bay area, Albany, NY, Pittsburgh, PA, and now Baltimore, MD.
Thursday morning Marilaine came to the office to meet everyone at CCAN and eat breakfast, and after coffee and bagels we left for Annapolis. We arrived in Annapolis to meet Jennifer Kunze (a former CCAN Fellow, now an organizer with Clean Water Action) for an event with Delegate Clarence Lam about oil trains and his recently introduced bill, the Rail Safety Act of 2016. We had a small but mighty audience who attended and learned about Marilaine’s story. Marilaine shared her story, Delegate Lam introduced and outlined his bill, and Frtiz Elder, a representative from Railroad Workers United discussed policy initiatives that workers are concerned about, specifically calling for more crew members on the train.
After that, we drove to the neighborhood of Westport in South Baltimore, to meet up with Keisha Allen, president of the Westport Neighborhood Association. Keisha met us with her neighbor, Doug, and we walked from her house to the tracks, about two blocks away, and discussed the problem. This was a highlight of the trip for me. It was powerful to connect the two of them, since Lac-Megantic and Westport have almost the same exact curve in the tracks that border their community. It was a true moment of solidarity that we rarely get to experience. They also discussed how it’s hard for low-income communities to advocate for change, and Keisha discussed some of the other issues facing the community, like asthma from pollution, trash, and poverty.
After, we went to Charles Village for the town hall. It was a really powerful and moving event, with over 70 people in attendance. Marilaine’s story touched everyone in the room, everyone was moved with her account of the experience. Next, Paul Plymouth, from the City Council President’s office spoke about the City Council’s recent action, introducing an ordinance that requires public disclosure of health and safety risks from oil trains in the city. You could tell he was genuinely moved by Marilaine’s presentation. Fritz Edler from Railroad Workers United was there as well and discussed the labor perspective, and why railroad workers should partner with climate groups to fight against oil trains. He also shared images of the 47 memorials in Lac-Megantic made for those who died. Finally, attendees from Residents Against the Tunnels (RATT) discussed the B&P Tunnel Project that they are opposing in the Resovoir Hill neighborhood. Throughout the evening, we generated hand written letters to Mayor Rawlings-Blake asking for her to sign the ordinance once it’s adopted by the City Council. After the event, people seemed genuinely moved and interested in taking action, especially by taking photographs of trains in their communities.
The next morning, Marilaine and I headed up to Baltimore to record an interview with Tom Pelton for WYPR’s “Environment in Focus” radio show, which aired yesterday. We were with Tom for about an hour to discuss Marilaine’s story and Delegate Lam’s Rail Safety Act. After that, I dropped her off at the airport and we said our goodbye’s. She was extremely grateful, and said she felt really good coming down here to do these presentations. Even though it was hard for her to share her story, she was extremely moved by our organizing and is excited to continue the fight.
To join in the fight against oil trains in Baltimore, and to find out how you can volunteer, let us know! If you see an oil train in your neighborhood, be sure to take a picture and email it to email@example.com.