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Sunday 21 September 2014

Quebec train was travelling too fast when it derailed, say investigators

Published 09/07/2013 | 15:44

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First responders fight burning trains after a train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec early July 6, 2013
First responders fight burning trains after a train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec early July 6, 2013

The crude oil freight train that derailed and blew up in the small town of Lac-Megantic early on Saturday morning was traveling far too fast when it went off the rails, investigators told reporters today.

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"The train derail(ed) at approximately 1.14 a.m. (0514 GMT)and although we can't provide the precise speed at this time, the train was traveling well in excess of its authorized speed at that point," said Donald Ross, an investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

At least 13 people died in the disaster and the death toll could reach 50.

Earlier today, authorities in the severely damaged Quebec town  said some residents could start returning home on Tuesday, three days after a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing up to 50 people.

"I have excellent news to announce this morning," Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told reporters as she announced that around 1,200 of the 2,000 people who were evacuated due to the disaster could go home. The town has 6,000 people.

The mayor said 50 factories and businesses in the blast zone would remain shut.

With the fires out and authorities able to get to the epicenter of the blasts, the death toll is expected to climb.

For the families of the dead and missing - around 50 people altogether - the recovery efforts will start to bring some closure, though it may take weeks or even months before all are identified.

"They know their loved ones were there, on the site. Most of them are now waiting for confirmation - because that makes it official," said Steve Lemay, the parish priest of Lac-Megantic, who has been meeting with affected families. "It's clear that they are not waiting for the missing to return."

Quebec police said late on Monday they had recovered 13 bodies from the blackened rubble of what was once the historic downtown strip in the town, about 160 miles (257 km) east of Montreal and near the border with Maine and Vermont.

The coroner's office asked relatives of the missing to bring in brushes, combs and razors so specialists could extract DNA samples from strands of hair.

Police moved a large truck in front of the disaster area on Tuesday to block television cameras from filming the grisly images of the recovery effort.

Canadian transport officials investigating the derailment were due to give a briefing at 10:15 a.m. EDT (1415 GMT).

 

BALL OF FIRE

The train was parked in nearby Nantes on Friday night when one of its engines, which had been left running to ensure the air brakes had enough pressure, caught fire. Local firemen turned off the engine, put out the fire and went home.

The train then started moving by itself and blew up in Lac-Megantic at 1 a.m. on Saturday. The ensuing fire engulfed nearby buildings.

Train operator Montreal, Maine & Atlantic says shutting off the engine caused the brakes to lose pressure, sending the train into the town.

Industry experts said engineers were also supposed to set enough of the train's handbrakes to ensure it could not move. No one from the train operator was immediately available to comment on how many handbrakes had been set.

"I'm not going to take full responsibility until such time as we compete an investigation. I don't think that's unreasonable ... we have to know what really happened, not just speculate," Robert Grindrod, president of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, told public broadcaster Radio-Canada on Monday night.

"It might be nice in the news to have a quick answer but it's more important to have the correct answer because that's the only way you can prevent something like this from happening again," he said.

By Monday evening, the emergency crews had finally reached the Musi-Cafe, a downtown bar near the epicenter of the blast. A band was performing that night and the building was packed with people, eyewitnesses told Reuters.

"I don't know how many friends I lost that night," said Jean-Sebastien Jacques, 24, who was walking toward the Musi-Cafe at the time of the accident. "We have looked at the shelter and around town, but that bar was full when the train hit."

Jacques played Reuters a dramatic video he shot on his cellphone right after the crash, which showed a ball of fire engulfing buildings and then another explosion that made him turn and run so quickly his shoes came off.

"The heat was unbearable," he said. "It was like holding your hand over a flame, but it was my entire back."

Reuters

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