Canada’s runaway oil train that caused an inferno in a Quebec town Saturday had had its air brakes disabled by firefighters before the disaster. According to reports, firefighters had been summoned to extinguish a blaze on one of the locomotives late Friday and had shut down the engine while they battled the fire.
Consequently, reports say, the train slid eight miles down a slope before derailing. The derailment caused a series of fireballs that produced the inferno engulfing the Quebec town.
Reports say that 72 tanker cars out of the total 73 were carrying crude oil bound from North Dakota to a refinery in New Brunswick. Five of the 73 cars exploded. Air brakes would have prevented the disaster.
Volunteer firefighters from a nearby town of Nantes had been summoned Friday around 11:30 p.m. EST to extinguish a blaze on one of the five locomotives, Fire Chief Patrick Lambert told reporters.
According to him, firefighters had shut down the locomotive while they battled the blaze, which was apparently caused by a broken oil or fuel line.
This may have triggered the disaster. According to Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the train’s crew had left the engine idling to keep the air brakes pressurized so the train would not roll. As the pressure gradually “leaked off,” the air brakes failed and the train began to slide downhill, Burkhardt said.
He said that if the engine had been shut down, “someone should have made a report to the local railroad about that.” He said the train’s operator was staying at a nearby hotel.
Fire Chief Lambert said it was up to the train crew to inspect the train. He said after the fire had been extinguished on one of the locomotives, the fire department contacted the local railway dispatcher to report that the fire had been quenched.
“We told them what we did and how we did it,” he said. “There was no discussion of the brakes at that time,” he added. “We were there for the train fire. As for the inspection of the train after the fact, that was up to them.”
Andre Gendron, a local resident who lives near the rail yard, told reporters that about five minutes after firefighters left, he felt a vibration. “I felt the vibration of a train moving down the track. I then saw the train move by without its lights on.”
“It wasn’t long after that I heard the explosion,” he said.
In the meantime, eight more bodies were found in Lac-Megantic, raising the total of the casualties to 13. Forty people are still missing and are feared dead. Reports say some may never be found because the intensity of the blaze may have vaporized some bodies.
According to reports, as searchers slowly made their way through the smoldering destruction Monday, firefighters doused two oil-filled cars with water and foam to keep them from overheating and exploding.
It is believed that many of the people missing were at a popular downtown bar. According to Quebec provincial police Sgt. Benoit Richard, searchers had not yet reached the night spot.
A local resident, Anne-Julie Huot, 27, said at least five of her friends and about 20 acquaintances remained missing.
“I have a friend who was smoking outside the bar when it happened, and she barely got away, so we can guess what happened to the people inside,” Huot said. “It’s like a nightmare.”
A coroner’s spokeswoman said because the blast was so intense, it may not be possible to recover some of the bodies. Geneviève Guilbault said the bodies are so badly burned that it will be hard to identify them.
A third of this town of 6,000 was forced to flee from their homes. Authorities say that approximately 1500 people may be able to come back home, Tuesday.
The Canadian town of Lac-Megantic which was engulfed in the train inferno is a lakeside town near the Maine border.
By Perviz Walji