Lac-Megantic (Canada), Jul 11: The head of the US railway company, whose runaway oil train crashed into a town in Canada, on Wednesday blamed a train engineer for failing to set the brakes properly before the train hurtled down a 11 km incline, derailed, and ignited a fire that killed at least 20 people.
Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of the railway's parent company, Rail World Incorporated, made his comments during his first visit to the town, where 30 people who are still missing following Saturday's fiery crash are now presumed dead.
"It's very questionable whether the brakes, the hand brakes, were properly applied on this train," Burkhardt said. "As a matter of fact, I'll say they weren't."
He said the train engineer has been suspended without pay.
"He's told us that he applied the 11 hand brakes, and our general feeling is that that's.... now, that that is not true," Burkhardt explained.
Burkhardt, who arrived with a police escort, was heckled by angry residents, some of whom said he should have visited the site of the disaster sooner.
He said that he had stayed in his office in Chicago to deal with the crisis, where he was better able to communicate with insurers and officials during what he described as 20-hour work days.
The railway boss promised an energetic response to the catastrophe.
Around 2,000 of Lac-Megantic's 6,000 residents were evacuated from their homes, but most have been allowed to return.