Quebec rail crash: Lone engineer failed to set brakes

A lone engineer failed to set brakes properly on a train that derailed and exploded in a small Canadian town, killing at least 15 people, the railway's chairman said.

"Adequate hand brakes were not set on this train and it was the engineer's responsibility to set them," Edward Burkhardt, the chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said while visiting the scene of the accident.

A massive blaze sparked by the crash on Saturday tore through homes and businesses, razing part of Lac-Megantic, a town of 6,000 located east of Montreal near the US border.

The blaze forced about 2,000 residents to flee their homes, though many of them started returning yesterday.

The freight train had been stopped for a crew change in the nearby town of Nantes when it began to roll downhill without a conductor towards Lac-Megantic, several kilometers away.

It derailed at a curve in the tracks and several cars exploded.

Burkhardt previously blamed firefighters in Nantes for the disaster, saying they unwittingly unlocked the train's air brakes when they shut down the locomotive's engines to douse a small unrelated fire hours before the Lac-Megantic disaster.

He clarified Wednesday that the shutdown of the air brakes "was an important causal factor in this whole thing."

But he added, "The fact that when the air brakes released on the locomotive the train ran away would indicate that the hand brakes were not properly applied."

Burkhardt faced angry residents when he arrived in Lac-Megantic to survey the devastation.

- AFP

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