Quebec Train Explosion: Criminal Investigation Opens, Downtown Lac Megantic ‘A Crime Scene’

There are new questions about the runaway Quebec oil train that exploded shortly after 1 AM Saturday morning, destroying the historic town center of Lac Megantic, Quebec. There are 15 known dead and 35 still missing in the deadly explosion that found many young people still present in a popular night club, which was one of the structures destroyed in the fire.

The police confirm that Lac Megantic’s downtown core is considered a crime scene, and the criminal investigation has been opened. In a statement late Tuesday afternoon, SQ Captain Michel Forget said that at this time they believe the disaster was a case of criminal negligence rather than someone deliberately setting the train loose. However, they’ll follow the evidence where it leads.

On Tuesday morning, Canada’s The Star said that Lead Transportation Safety Board investigator Don Ross addressed some of the speculation surrounding the incident.

We now know that this oil train is the one that arrived at about 11 PM on Friday night in the nearby town of Nantes where it was parked on the main track. A fire broke out sometime before midnight, and the Nantes Fire Department was called to assist in putting out that fire.

Less than an hour later, the riderless train had broken away from where it was parked, picking up speed in its run to Lac Megantic, Quebec where the train derailed at high speed, resulting in a fireball explosion that set the small town ablaze.

In the aftermath, Montreal Maine & Atlantic hinted that the firefighters were to blame. CTV reported a Sunday statement from the company which said that the locomotive brake’s were shut down, resulting in the release of the air brakes and the escape of the train.

MMM chairman Edward Burkhardt went further on Monday, telling The Globe and Mail that he thought the train’s air brakes were released by the firefighters: “They went out there by themselves, shut the engine off, doused the fire. A very small fire.”

Fire chief Patrick Lambert has disputed that story. And the TSB has now confirmed that, contrary to Burkhardt’s theory, there was at least one railroad worker on the scene of the firefight.

The resulting disaster was even spotted from space by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. Here is an image of the event provided by NASA’s Earth Observatory:

Quebec train explosion
NASA provided a view of the disaster from orbit.

Here is footage of the explosion:

Here is another video that shows the subsequent fire:

The search for victims isn’t yet complete. But already the blame game is well-established in the horrific Quebec train explosion.

[aerial view of the Lac Megantic disaster by Surete du Quebec]
[Quebec train explosion seen from space by NASA’s Earth Observatory]