Police Open a Criminal Probe into the Deadly Canada Train Crash

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As the death toll rises to 15 following the explosion of a runaway train in a small border town in Quebec, officials announced on Tuesday that they believe the train's brakes may have been disabled before the crash. They've now opened a criminal investigation.

But that investigation doesn't mean that authorities think the explosion was a terrorist act. According to the Globe and Mail's report, the charges, if any, would most likely be akin to criminal negligence, if the timeline that's emerging is true. That timeline relies on information from Edward Burkhardt, the chairman of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway company that owned the doomed train. Before the train lost control and headed straight for Lac-Megantic, firefighters dealt with a small locomotive blaze, after which the train was parked with the engine off. According to Burkhardt, the fire department may have turned off the driverless train's air brakes after putting out the fire, leaving it vulnerable for its descent. 

But the local fire department says they're not at fault: "Nothing the firefighters did could have put the train in jeopardy,” Nantes fire chief Patrick Lambert said on Monday. And questions remain as to why the train was parked on the main track, and not off to the side. All Quebec police would say about their investigation is that they've "discovered elements" leading them to a criminal probe. 

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Meanwhile, 50 are still missing after the crash. Those missing include the dead counted so far, who have not yet been identified. Officials announced that some of the 1,500 displaced residents will be able to return home later this week. But there are still significant concerns out there that officials are still grappling with: a good portion of the town is covered in oil and soot from the explosion. There are also air quality concerns, not to mention a few tankers still deemed volatile by officials on site. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.