MONTREAL - The train that careened into the centre of town in Lac Mégantic early Saturday morning was unmanned when it derailed and exploded in a huge ball of flame, says a spokesperson for the company that owned the locomotive.
Joseph R. McGonigle confirmed to The Gazette early Saturday afternoon that shortly before midnight, the train's conductor stopped in nearby Nantes, locked the brakes and checked to ensure that the rail cars carrying thousands of litres of crude oil were all securely attached.
He then checked into a nearby Lac Mégantic hotel for the night. Another conductor was reportedly expected to take over driving the train within a few hours.
"Sometime after (the first conductor left), the train got loose," said McGonigle, who is vice president of marketing for The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. "It travelled under its own inertia to the centre of the town."
The locomotive portion of the 73-car train actually detached half a mile outside of the small town, he added, but the cars carrying the oil kept right on rolling. McGonigle said there are security mechanisms in place to prevent anyone from tampering with the train, and the proper checks were done by the conductor before he left the vehicle. No one except him or another employee of the company should have been able to set it in motion.
"That's what confuses us. How did this happen?" McGonigle said. "There are many fail-safe modes. How this happened is just beyond us."