Quebec Premier Takes Rail Chief to Task

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (AP) -

Crews worked Thursday to find the burned remains of the 50 people presumed dead in Saturday’s catastrophic oil train derailment, as Quebec Premier Pauline Marois toured the traumatized town. Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of U.S.-based Rail World Inc., which owns the runaway train, was also in town.

Marois had earlier faulted Burkhardt for what she said was a slow response, and called the company’s chief behavior “deplorable” and “unacceptable.”

Burkhardt said he delayed his visit in order to deal with the crisis from his office in Chicago, saying he was better able to communicate from there with insurers.

Burkhardt has blamed the engineer for failing to set the brakes properly before the unmanned train hurtled down a seven-mile  incline, derailed and ignited in the center of Lac-Megantic early Saturday. All but one of its 73 cars was carrying oil, and at least five exploded.

Burkhardt said the train’s engineer had been suspended without pay and was under “police control.” The derailment is Canada’s worst railway disaster since a train plunged into a Quebec river in 1864, killing 99.

The crash has raised questions about the rapidly growing use of rail to transport oil in North America, especially in the booming North Dakota oil fields and Alberta oil sands far from the sea.