LAC-MEGANTIC: The United States (US) rail company at the center of Canada’s worst train disaster in recent history on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) blamed firefighters for the deadly derailment, as police indicated they believe it could be a case of criminal negligence.
The death toll from the explosion on Saturday of the runaway train in the middle of the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic meanwhile rose to 15, with about three-dozen others still reported as missing.
“We are very hopeful we will find more bodies,” said provincial police Insp. Michel Forget, as investigators combed through the debris of homes and businesses in the town, east of Montreal near the US border.
Forget said negligence—not a deliberate act of setting the train loose—could have played a role, but that the criminal probe would proceed along with a Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigation.
He, however, did not offer any details about the police probe.
The chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), Edward Burkhardt, accused firefighters of releasing the train’s brakes when it was stopped in Nantes, around 13 kilometers (eight miles) west of Lac-Megantic, for a crew changeover.
Those firefighters had been called to douse a small fire in one of the train’s five locomotives.
Burkhardt told the daily La Presse that Nantes firefighters “showed up and put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. To do that they also shut down the first locomotive’s engines. This is what led to the disaster.”
He explained that the train’s brakes were powered by the locomotive and would have disengaged when it was shut down, causing the driverless train to start rolling downhill towards Lac-Megantic.
By the time the company was informed of the shutdown, the train—en route from the US state of North Dakota to a refinery in Canada’s eastern New Brunswick province—had already reached the town, he said.
MMA trains will no longer be left unattended, he vowed, noting that the company has also launched an internal investigation.
Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert however dismissed Burkhardt’s accusations, saying the 12 firefighters who responded to the locomotive engine fire followed proper procedures.