HERMON — The railway that owns the runaway train that devastated a small Quebec town almost two weeks ago, killing at least 37 people, has laid off 79 of its 179 workers due to the disaster, a company official said Wednesday.

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway workers learned at the close of business on Monday that they would be temporarily unemployed immediately due to the “drastic drop in business” caused by the closure of the tracks through Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where the train explosion occurred on July 6, said Robert Grindrod, the company’s president.

“It is solely for that,” Grindrod said Wednesday. “We hope it will be temporary and then when other arrangements and other routes are developed, if and when the blockage and investigation is complete in Lac-Megantic, we hope to get back in business, but I can’t estimate the amount of time that is going to take.”

Grindrod could not immediately provide a breakdown of the number of American workers to be laid off.

The company is headquartered in Hermon and has about 200 customers in Canada, Maine and Vermont. The Lac-Megantic line is its primary route to Montreal, and though the disaster has cut off only four company customers, most of the other customers need that line, Grindrod said.

Estimates on the effect of the closure on Maine’s economy were not immediately available. Maine Department of Labor Rapid Response team workers will help the laid-off workers, department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said.

The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board administers the unemployment benefit program for railroad workers. Affected MM&A workers would not participate in the state-funded unemployment system but would be eligible to use the services of the CareerCenter system, including the Maine Job Bank, and other Labor Department programs, she said.

The Rapid Response program of the Bureau of Employment Services assists workers facing job loss due to downsizing or closures. Labor workers provide laid-off workers with aid to safeguard their economic stability.

Railway workers have begun to create alternative routes for their customers’ freight, but that work typically takes at least a week to finish, said Grindrod, who doesn’t know when the Lac-Megantic line will reopen.

“The only people who are not being served are the customers in Lac-Megantic itself,” Grindrod said. “Everyone else in Canada and the U.S. is receiving some form of service.”

“While all those alternate routes are being planned, there is very little going on,” he added, estimating that as much as 80 percent of company traffic might eventually need to be rerouted.

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