Emergency crews in Canada spent the week extinguishing fires and searching for survivors after a train loaded with crude oil derailed about 150 miles east of Montreal.
The train was parked near Lac-Megantic, Quebec when it started to roll downhill. The runaway then barreled seven miles into town, derailed and burst into flames.
All but one of the train’s 73 cars were carrying oil and at least five exploded.
The train was operated by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, and the investigation is focused on the train’s engineer.
The company’s CEO said there are questions about whether the engineer set and applied the brakes properly before departing the parked train. CEO Edward Burkhardt stated this week the engineer initially said he applied 11 hand brakes, a claim that is disputed by investigators. Burkhardt said the engineer has been suspended without pay during the inquiry into the mishap.
The derailment is Canada's worst railway disaster since 1864, when a train plunged into a Quebec river killing 99 people.
The crash has raised questions about the increasing use of railroads to transport crude in North America.
The train was carrying nearly a million gallons of oil from North Dakota's Bakken formation to a refinery in New Brunswick on Canada's Eastern Coast. Due to limited pipeline capacity in the Bakken region and near the oil sands in Canada, producers are increasingly using railroads to transport crude.
The Canadian Railway Association recently estimated that as many as 140,000 carloads of oil will move on Canada's tracks this year. That’s up nearly 29,000 percent from the 500 carloads shipped in 2009.
Saturday’s derailment prompted Canada’s fourth investigation this year of an accident involving freight trains carrying crude oil.