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Despite being alerted by many of our readers, we’ve been slow in covering the runaway train collision that devastated the town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec (for earlier coverage check out Firegeezer.com). So far 15 bodies have been found, but officials believe 35 others were caught up in the explosions and have not been found. Now the fingerpointing has begun. It appears the chain of events started with an idling, unattended locomotive that had a small fire.
The chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, 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.
Edward Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Inc., arrived in Montreal late Tuesday afternoon and headed to Sherbrooke, near the devastated town, after being pursued to his car by a throng of reporters.
In earlier media interviews, the Illinois-based Burkhardt had said he figured he’d have to wear a bullet-proof vest to the town.
In Lac-Megantic, Grindrod attributed that evaluation to the fact that Burkhardt “has a different sense of humour at some times” and didn’t really expect to be shot despite the outrage in the town.
“What he was really saying when he said that, his real intent was that he was going to face very stiff questioning and he expected a lot of byplay with the citizens. He expected to have to answer a lot of very tough questions. He’s not expecting bullets flying or anything like that.
“The firemen should have roused the locomotive engineer who was in his hotel and taken him to the scene with them,” he (Burkhardt) told reporters after arriving at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. “But it’s easy to say what should have happened. We’re dealing with what happened.”
The Nantes fire chief has insisted he and his men followed procedure set down by the railway itself.