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Associated Press
Angry citizens heckle Rail World Inc. President Edward Burkhardt, far right, Wednesday over the oil train crash as he tours Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Train crash death toll at 50; CEO criticized for response

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec – Canadian officials are now telling the families of the 30 people missing in a runaway oil train crash over the weekend that all are presumed dead.

With 20 bodies found, that would put the death toll from Saturday’s derailment and explosions at 50.

The head of the U.S. railway company whose oil train crashed into the Quebec town has blamed the engineer for failing to set the brakes properly. A fire on the train just hours before the crash is also being investigated.

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train hurtled downhill for seven miles before derailing in the center of Lac-Megantic. All but one of the 73 cars was carrying oil, and at least five exploded.

Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of the railway’s parent company, Rail World Inc., said the engineer has been suspended without pay and was under “police control.”

“We think he applied some hand brakes, but the question is, did he apply enough of them?” Burkhardt said. “He said he applied 11 hand brakes. We think that’s not true. Initially we believed him, but now we don’t.”

Burkhardt encountered sharp criticism from Quebec politicians and jeers from Lac-Megantic residents while making his first visit.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois faulted the company’s response to the disaster. She depicted Burkhardt’s attitude and response as “deplorable” and “unacceptable.”

Quebec police have said they were pursuing a criminal investigation, extending to the possibilities of criminal negligence and some sort of tampering with the train before the crash.

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