The president and CEO of the railway’s parent company has accused an employee of creating the Quebec train disaster by failing to properly set the train’s brakes.
The Rail World Inc. CEO, Edward Burkhardt, made the comments during a visit to the town devastated by the oil tanker train, where dozens are still missing.
Burkhardt added that a train engineer has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation. He explained:
“I think he did something wrong. It’s hard to explain why someone didn’t do something. We think he applied some hand brakes but the question is did he apply enough of them.”
Burkhardt was heckled by angry residents as he arrived in the town with a police escort. He explained to them that he stayed at his office in Chicago to better communicate with insurers and officials.
The news of the rail worker’s suspension came as officials upped the death toll of the Quebec train disaster to 20. They added that the 30 people who remain missing are now presumed dead. Quebec police spokesman Michel Forget stated on Wednesday:
“Now we are standing here with a number of 50 persons that were are considering now as missing and most probably dead in this tragedy.”
While there are 50 people missing presumed dead, 20 bodies have been recovered so far. Canadian police also announced on Tuesday that they opened a criminal investigation into the Quebec train disaster. Forget added that police have recovered some evidence from the town of Lac-Megantic, but that he “will not speculate” on it for now.
However, Forget did explain, “We don’t think the terrorism aspect is a part of that. Criminal negligence might be one of the leads we are looking at.”
On the night of the accident, the 72-car, almost one-mile-long train was secured in Nantes, about eight miles away from Lac-Megantic. The train’s engineer stated that he set 11 hand brakes, but Burkhardt appeared skeptical. He stated. “He said he applied 11 hand brakes we think that’s not true. Initially we believed him but now we don’t.”
But investigators are still not able to enter the center of town where the derailed, burned out train cars still rest. Until then, there is only speculation on what may have caused the Quebec train disaster, labeled the worst in North America since 1989.