Canada train blast blamed on engineer

He failed to apply enough hand brakes, says rail boss

The devastating train explosion that ripped through a town in Quebec, killing at least 20 people and injuring scores more, has been blamed on a company engineer.

Lac-Megantic, a small town in eastern Canada, was hit by a runaway freight train carrying 72 cars of crude oil on Saturday morning. The ensuing blast, which raged for days, razed 30 buildings and obliterated much of the town’s central street. 

More than 30 people are still missing and presumed dead while just one of the twenty confirmed casualties has successfully been identified and the family informed.

Making his first visit to the town yesterday, the train operator’s boss, Rail World’s Edward Burkhardt, admitted an engineer had failed to set a series of hand brakes that could have presented the disaster.

“I think he did something wrong,” he said, while flanked by police escorts and being heckled by the distraught crowd. “It's hard to explain why someone didn't do something. We think he applied some hand brakes but the question is: did he apply enough of them?

“He said he applied 11 hand brakes. We think that's not true. Initially we believed him but now we don't.”

The unnamed engineer has been suspended without pay.

Responding to jibes from local authorities, Mr Burkhardt said he had not visited the town earlier because he was dealing with the crisis in his Chicago office.

Earlier yesterday, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois joined the chorus of condemnation attacking the company's response to the crash. “We have realised there are serious gaps from the railway company from not having been there and not communicating with the public," Ms Marois said.

The new Rail World statement appears to undermine Mr Burkhardt’s previous suggestion on Tuesday evening that local firefighters shared some of the blame.

"We don't have total responsibility, but we have partial responsibility," he told reporters in Montreal.