Investigation Continues After Devastating Train Derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada

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Marco Werman: I am Marco Werman; this is The World. The head of Rail World Incorporated the company involved in that horrible derailment in Canada, visited the scene of the tragedy today. Edward Burkhardt said he suspects the train's engineer did 'something wrong'  before the derailment. What exactly happened is still the focus of ongoing investigations. But there's no doubt about the devastation in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The town is largely destroyed and more than 60 people are dead or missing. Reuters' reporter Richard Valdmanis has been there since Saturday.

Richard Valdmanis: The historic downtown of Lac-Megantic has essentially been wiped off the map. What's left is a black smudge and just outside of the black zone it's kind of amazing — it's almost as though a surgeon's scalpel divided the area that was destroyed from the area that wasn't. You have houses that appear untouched.

Werman: There seems to be mounting controversy over how this accident could have happened. Can you briefly tell our listeners what the events were that led to the derailment as best as you understand them right now?

Valdmanis: There was a train that was parked in the neighboring town of Nantes which was sort of a routine operation for this train and Montreal, Maine and Atlantic. They came in around 11 o'clock. The conductor got off the train after having secured it and went to a hotel. The train was running; it was left alone. The fire department in Nantes got a phone call that there was a fire in the engine of the train. They went; they shut down the locomotive; put out the fire; called the company and told them what had happened. And it was not long after everybody left the scene the train was first witnessed by someone who lives nearby rolling down the tracks slowly towards Lac-Megantic without its lights on. Fifteen, twenty minutes after that, the explosion happened. The police are looking at whether there was any kind of crime, any kind of tampering and the Transportation Safety Board is focusing on whether the safety equipment on the train was properly used. Lot more questions than answers at the moment.

Werman: Now you've left Lac-Megantic today to further investigate the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway and Rail World, Inc. You've been talking with people who live along the tracks. What have they been telling you?

Valdmanis: I am now in a farm in Quebec. This part of the rail is controlled by the company MMA. I've spoken to some residents here who live along the tracks and they've showed me some fairly dramatic parts of the train tracks that appear to be very significantly degraded. I saw with my own eyes parts of the tracks where the ties have been completely eroded and rotted away. One resident actually pulled out a railroad nail with his bare hands. There are definitely concerns among residents here about the way this company managed security on its tracks and whether they spent enough money to keep the tracks and the trains up to code.

Werman: Richard, since you're the Boston Bureau Chief of Reuters, let me put this to you. I know the Boston area has been contemplating permits for trains carrying ethanol rolling through the city. I would guess that, regardless of the cause, the Lac-Megantic disaster will give many people pause to consider such plans.

Valdmanis: Since a lot of these railways actually move between Canada and the United States, I think there's going to be some fairly close cooperation or at least the U.S. regulators are going to be looking fairly closely at this one. So you might actually see this have an impact on the way hazardous material as petroleum, oil and ethanol are moved in the United States as well.

Werman: Richard Valdmanis is the Boston Bureau Chief with Reuters. He's been covering the disastrous events north of the border in Canada, in Lac-Megantic in Quebec. Richard, thank you very much.

Valdmanis: Thank you.