July 10, 2013

Signs of a criminal act in Canada train explosion

Investigators consider that and other possible causes of a train crash that left at least 15 dead and dozens missing.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Canadian authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the train derailment Saturday that caused an explosion and fire that killed at least 15 people and destroyed much of the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Investigators have "discovered elements" that have prompted a criminal probe, Quebec police inspector Michel Forget said at a news briefing Tuesday. He did not give details, but he ruled out terrorism.

Forget said police are more likely exploring the possibility of criminal negligence, The Associated Press reported.

Ed Burkhardt, chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, which owns the train, told the Montreal Gazette on Monday that he believes someone tampered with it.

"We have evidence of this," said Burkhardt, who is also president of Rail World Inc., the parent company of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic. "But this is an item that needs further investigation. We need to talk to some people we believe to have knowledge of this."

Burkhardt said he doesn't believe the event was malicious or an act of terrorism.

The continuing search for dozens of people who remain missing in Lac-Megantic, near the border of Maine's Franklin County, was hampered by the blackened, twisted metal and escaping gas in the area where the explosion occurred before dawn Saturday.

The confirmed death toll was 15 late Tuesday night, with dozens more bodies feared buried in the ruins.

Joe McGonigle, a vice president for Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, based in Hermon, Maine, said Tuesday that the fire was not caused by the runaway train crashing into propane tank cars in the railyard in the center of town, as some residents of Lac-Megantic said.

"I can confirm there were no propane tank cars in the area," said McGonigle.

He said, however, that he did not know if propane tanks might have been elsewhere in the area. "We don't know if there were propane tanks next to a building," he said.


Maine officials are looking at whether a similar disaster could happen here, and how prepared emergency responders would be if it did.

On Tuesday night, the Maine House approved an order directing the state to study the transportation of hazardous materials.

The state would examine and issue a report on the shipment of materials such as oil in Maine, including recommendations for legislation that could prevent disasters.

The train that crashed was hauling 72 rail cars loaded with 2 million gallons of highly flammable light crude oil from North Dakota across Maine to a refinery in New Brunswick.

Railroads are not required to notify local officials about the cargo that trains haul or that may be stored temporarily in communities.

"Given the magnitude of this tragedy, we must do all that we can to prevent another disaster like this from taking place," said House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, who sponsored the bill. "Given the exponential growth in oil transport through our state, this accident could just as easily have taken place in a Maine town or city."

The Senate was still considering the measure late Tuesday night.

The governor issued an executive order Tuesday for the state Department of Transportation to collect information from the Federal Railroad Administration concerning safety protocols throughout Maine's rail system.

About 2,000 rail cars, each carrying 30,000 gallons of oil, traverse the state each month, said Mark Hyland, operations and response director for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

(Continued on page 2)

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