Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Disaster rail chief an NZ honorary consul

The president of the company involved in the Canadian rail disaster which has killed 50 is a New Zealand honorary consul in America.

Edward Burkhardt, New Zealand's honorary consul to Chicago, is president of Rail World which owns and operates Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway - the company whose oil-laden freight train hurtled into the small Quebec town centre of Lac Megantic on Sunday.

The train was travelling 100km/h when it derailed, causing a huge explosion and fireball that turned 30 of the town's crowded bars and shops into a deadly inferno.

The company has faced growing criticism for its response to the grieving public of the small French-Canadian community of 6000 residents, about 250km east of Montreal.

According to his online profile at, Mr Burkhardt led the privatisation of New Zealand Rail in the 1990s and served as chairman of Tranz Rail Holdings for six years.

It was those actions - while founder, president and CEO for Wisconsin Central Transportation Corporation - that earned him his position as Honorary Consul in 1997.

Burkhardt has been criticised for the way his company was handling the incident. Media reports have also drawn on conflicting explanations he has given which included that the train was tampered with after an engineer had correctly shut down the train and left the station, from which the train later rolled away.

Later he told The Globe and Mail that firefighters who attended a small blaze in one of the carriages before the incident were to blame.

The accident had also drawn attention to the firm's safety record. "In the last year, the railroad had 36.1 accidents per million miles travelled, in comparison to a national average of 14.6 accidents," the BBC reported.

- NZ Herald

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