Skip to main content

Engine shutdown may have started Canadian train disaster, railway says

By Lauren Russell, Emanuella Grinberg and Umaro Djau, CNN
updated 11:00 PM EDT, Sun July 7, 2013
Edward Burkhardt, CEO of Montreal, Maine &amp; Atlantic Railways Inc., speaks on Wednesday, July 10, during a news conference. A train with 72 tanker cars carrying crude oil barreled down the track before <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/10/world/americas/canada-runaway-train/index.html?hpt=hp_c3'>derailing and exploding in Lac -Megantic, Quebec</a>, on Saturday, July 6. Edward Burkhardt, CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways Inc., speaks on Wednesday, July 10, during a news conference. A train with 72 tanker cars carrying crude oil barreled down the track before derailing and exploding in Lac -Megantic, Quebec, on Saturday, July 6.
HIDE CAPTION
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
Train derails, explodes in Canadian town
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Engine shutdown, air brake release may have caused train derailment, rail company says
  • Train rolled downhill, derailed and exploded into flames
  • At least five people killed; about 40 unaccounted for
  • "It looks like a war zone here," Prime Minister Stephen Harper says

(CNN) -- The company responsible for a runaway train that exploded in a small Canadian town Saturday said an engine shutdown may have released air brakes holding the train in place.

At least five people are dead and around 40 are unaccounted for in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, after a 73-car train carrying crude oil derailed and crashed, local law enforcement officials said. Tankers exploded, sending thick plumes of smoke into the night sky, leveling dozens of homes and buildings and forcing nearly 2,000 people from their homes.

The train had stopped for a crew change Friday night in a station about seven miles from Lac-Megantic, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway said in a statement. The train's engineer had "tied down" and checked into a motel.

Flames erupt in deadly train derailment
See massive fire after train derailment

"One fact that has emerged is the locomotive of the oil train parked at Nantes station was shut down subsequent to the departure of the engineer who had handled the train from Farnham, which may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place," the company said in a statement, noting that it still didn't have "complete information."

The explosion devastated the small lakeside town, where firefighters were still working Sunday to contain hot spots so law enforcement could expand its investigation. Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found the locomotive event recorder and planned to analyze it for information on throttle position and speed, among other data.

The burned bodies of the dead have been sent to Montreal for identification, but "we know that there will be many more" deaths, police spokesman Lt. Michel Brunet said Sunday.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper likened the town to a "war zone" after touring it Sunday.

"There is not a family in this area that is not touched by this," he said in a press conference outside Polyvalente Montignac High School, the main staging area for recovery efforts.

"A beautiful downtown here has been destroyed," he said. "There's going to be a need for substantial reconstruction."

Harper would not comment on specifics of the disaster except that he expected information "about why this occurred" to lead to a police investigation.

"I've heard things that concern me greatly," he said. "There will be investigations that will point to guilty or responsible people."

Witnesses told the CBC they heard five or six explosions. One person saw the first train tanker tip over and yelled "run, run!" as he dashed toward the lake for which the town is named. He told CBC the flames chased him to the edge of the water.

"The fire was moving so quickly," he said. "We saw balls of fire shooting out onto the water."

One woman told CNN affiliate CTV she was working at a bar nearby and got off work an hour before the accident.

"I have no news from my friends; I haven't heard from any of them," she told tearfully told CTV. "I can't say more than that. We're waiting for confirmation."

Amid the chaos, friends and families are scrambling to find their loved ones.

More than 17,000 people have joined a Facebook page to help people connect with their loved ones in the town. Locals and outsiders have posted desperate notes to try to figure out where their friends and family were on the night of the crash.

Some posts bring relief -- "Mom it is alisun and oceannie and rosaly we are all alive I love you," one reads in French.

Others look less promising.

Multiple posts ask about Guy Bolduc, a singer who was performing at Musi-Cafe in town.

"All of his fans, all over Quebec, but also his fellow singers (of whom I am one) hope to see him again alive!!! Come on my GuyBol, come out of your hiding place," one member wrote.

The group administrators ask that members not post about deaths until they're confirmed.

Residents told the CBC they have never seen anything like it.

"It's dreadful," Claude Bedard said. "It's terrible. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone."

Authorities evacuated more than a third of the town of 6,000 people, most from the center of the town and a home for the elderly.

As authorities worked to get more details, residents of the scenic town grappled with the loss.

"It's like the town has been cut by a knife," Sgt. Gregory Gomez del Prado told the CBC.

Resident Amanda Gabrielle said the train crashed on her birthday. She lost her dog, she's now homeless, and she doesn't have any family or friends.

"I lost everything," Gabrielle told the CBC. "I don't know what's going to happen to me."

For information on missing people, call 1-800-659-4264.

CNN's Jonathan Mann, Joe Sterling, Pierre Meilhan, Darrell Calhoun, Jake Carpenter, Ben Brumfield, Dave Alsup and Deanna Hackney contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:21 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
The first human trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine has produced promising results, U.S. scientists said.
updated 9:15 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teen in August abandoned home after address made public.
updated 5:36 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
HBO -- backing a documentary based on "Going Clear," a book about Scientology and Hollywood -- isn't taking any chances with legal side.
updated 2:35 PM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Grandmaster Nguyen Van Chieu has devoted his adult life to spreading the word about Vietnames martial art, Vovinam.
updated 6:36 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
England cricketer Nick Compton shares insight into "drive and courage" it takes to face fears as top batsman.
updated 7:59 PM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson says he was just doing his "job right" when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown.
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
updated 6:18 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says women's "nature is different," sparking fury.
updated 5:43 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 12:03 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT