Tom Harding Defense Fund


Who is Thomas Harding, Jr. really?

Who is Thomas Harding, Jr.? Not a difficult question to ask, but to really understand who he is we have to look at his father and family.

It all began with Thomas Harding Sr. (1929-1993), a railroad man. Tom Sr. worked for Quebec North Shore and Labrador for about 8 years and helped build the tracks in Sept Isles (pronounced, Sept-Eel).  He then worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway for an accumulation of 42 years of service when he retired just prior to his death.

Tom Sr. was a family man first and foremost, who worked hard and diligently to provide everything he possibly could to his family.  He loved his family, but he also loved his work.  He encouraged every one of his children to get an education and they did. However, in a true father-son relationship, they all followed in his footsteps and became railroad men.

Thomas Harding Jr. (b.1961) started working for the CP in 1980.  CP sold off their section to Canadian American Railroad (CDAC), now defunct. Eventually, CDAC became Quebec Southern, and ultimately Montreal, Maine & Atlantic. Tom Jr. has chronicled 33 years of experience on the railroad.

His siblings have chronicled 34 and 30 years, respectively.  Coming from a railroad family, Tom Jr., his father, and his two siblings have talked about railroad matters at almost every family event in private and in public. Between the four men, there is 139 years of experience to reflect on. This does not even include uncles and cousins who have been part of the railway system over the years.  Collectively, it is well over 300+ years of railroad experience. In one family!

Outside of railroading, Tom Jr. has kept his father’s legacy alive through competitive swimming. Tom Sr. was an avid swimmer. In fact, as a child, he would keep track of the pool/lake mileage by using push pins on a Canadian map to record his ultimate quest - to swim across Canada. All of Tom Jr.’s siblings, children, nephews, and nieces are certified lifeguards and competitive swimmers. Talk about family roots being kept alive!

Another passion of Tom Jr.’s is hockey, which is not surprisingly another family tradition. Tom Jr., his brothers, his sister, his nephew and son all played minor hockey.  In fact, his two brothers still play hockey on a regular basis in the Old Time Hockey league. But in his older years, Tom Jr. got smart. He is now a regular snowboarder.

It is truth, Tom Jr. is a private man, but his upbringing and his family speaks for who he is as a man and who his family is as a people. Close knit! Tom Jr.’s parents made sure that Honor, Integrity, and Loyalty were all important core values their children would follow… in fact, live! Jr. comes from a family that has a lot of heart and soul.

Le Megantic has wounded him deeply. He will never be the same man.

Tom Harding - MMA Engineer assigned to the MMA train that exploded in the Town La Megantic, Quebec

Portrait emerges of train engineer linked to Quebec derailment disaster

By Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press – Thu, 11 Jul, 2013

LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. - His face gripped with terror, the train driver sprang out of bed at the inn where he'd retired for the night and raced to the scene of an impending catastrophe in the town that served as his second home.

Several people in Lac-Megantic painted a portrait Thursday of the friendly Anglo railman who enjoyed chatting with locals in his accented French during his regular stopovers in the community.

The train driver, Tom Harding, now finds himself at the centre of the investigation into a Quebec derailment disaster feared to have killed 50 people. His boss has said police have talked about the possibility of criminal charges.

An employee at the inn where Harding slept one or two nights per week says she specifically remembers the horrified expression on his face when he first saw the inferno engulfing the town.

Catherine Pomerleau-Pelletier was on the hotel bar's outdoor patio when the lights started to flicker. Moments later, a massive blast drove rattled guests from the rooms, including Harding.

Pomerleau-Pelletier saw him emerge from the inn amid the chaos, but doesn't remember hearing him utter a word.

She thinks she was looking into his eyes the instant he realized his unmanned, crude-oil-filled train had just slammed into the downtown core.

"I looked at him and I didn't say a word or anything because he looked very, very, very shaken up," said Pomerleau-Pelletier, a barmaid and receptionist at the century-old l'Eau Berge inn.

"He didn't do anything, but his face was pretty descriptive.

"It said everything."

She almost immediately lost track of him as people ran for their lives through the streets.

The company had initially described Harding as a hero for apparently rushing to the scene where he managed to pull some of the explosive, untouched rail cars away from the flames.

But Ed Burkhardt, the chairman of the rail company, has apparently changed his view of Harding's actions that night. He has said his employee was suspended without pay amid concerns he might not have properly applied the brakes on the train.


A taxi driver recalled something unusual when he saw Harding earlier that night.

The cabbie met Harding at the spot where he parked the train Friday night. He said his regular customer seemed fine, with nothing out of the ordinary.

However, Andre Turcotte did say that the idling engine appeared to be belching out more smoke than usual, so much so that he recalled that oil droplets from the locomotive exhaust landed on his car.

He said he asked Harding, twice, whether the puffs of smoke were particularly hazardous for the environment.

His client, Turcotte added, calmly responded that he had followed company directives to deal with the issue.

A short time after they left for the 10-kilometre ride to the inn, the locomotive caught fire, a blaze that was extinguished by the local fire department.

The details of what happened next will be at the heart of investigations by police, the federal Transportation Safety Board, potential lawsuits, and untold insurance claims.

Earlier reports have said Harding is on sick leave, although the company boss said he's been suspended. Attempts to reconcile that discrepancy received no response from the company Thursday.

Repeated attempts to reach Harding over the last two days have been unsuccessful.

Police have released the first name of a victim: 93-year-old Eliane Parenteau. Most of the bodies have not been found or identified.

Much of the local anger has been directed at the company, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, who received applause from residents as she visited the town Thursday for a second time, called MMA's handling of the crisis "deplorable." The local mayor says she's angry at the company boss for his response to the crisis.

With most residents being allowed to return home, only about 10 per cent of the 2,000 who were evacuated will still be shut out of their houses as of the weekend.

Details are slowly emerging about the man at the centre of the incident.

Turcotte has transported Harding on the $20 cab rides from the train to the inn once or twice a week for the last four months and says they've chatted together about their families.

He describes Harding as a really nice guy.

"(Just) imagine it's not his fault. In the meantime, he needs support — he doesn't need harassment," Turcotte said in an interview at his home outside of Lac-Megantic.

"And if it's his fault, listen, he will pay for it, for sure."

Several locals have fond recollections of their dealings with Harding.

Another inn employee called him a "sweet" person with lots of friends in his now-devastated second hometown.

Caroline Langlois, who has known Harding for two-and-a-half years, considers him a friend.

"I really feel a lot of his pain," said the barmaid, who sees him as such a close friend that she would share very little information about him.

She said she has even defended him when hearing people utter "abominations" about him.

"Because I know he's truly a good person."

Harding has yet to comment publicly on the disaster.

He has not surfaced since returning to his home in the Quebec town of Farnham, east of Montreal, following a meeting with police.

On Thursday, there were no signs of Harding at his home. Officials from the Transportation Safety Board were seen at the Farnham offices of the MMA railway.

Canadian National confirmed Thursday that Harding was involved in a minor accident last August at one of their yards in the Quebec city of St-Hyacinthe.

Spokesman Mark Hallman refused to provide any other details about the incident, nor would he say what prompted CN to discuss Harding's record.

"CN took appropriate steps following the accident and has no further comment," he said.

A regular at l'Eau Berge's pub said that Harding, like many of the drivers who stayed at the inn, would frequently complain about mechanical problems on the locomotives — including minor fires.

The breakdowns would often delay the drivers and they would show up late at the inn, Francois Durand said.

He said he and Harding have shared many laughs at the bar, which he described as a positive atmosphere that includes railmen, staff and locals.

"We chatted about all sorts of things — crap about life, women," Durand said about his exchanges with Harding, whom he's known for about two years.

Another regular said he's always thought of Harding as a good worker and a responsible guy.

Harding didn't drink much either, Gilles Fluet said, except for the occasional beer.

"I never saw this guy in an inebriated state," Fluet said.

"I have more confidence in this guy than his employer."


The Tom Harding Defense Fund is a website inspired by a former coworker at Canadian Pacific Railway and created by railroad employees in the Albany, NY area.


Accident train photo taken by Richard Deuso