Locomotive MMA 5017, reported to be the lead locomotive in the Lake Megantic derailment, idles at Brownville Junction, Maine - 8 Aug 2006 Ejen Nordfors.
13 September 2013
Burkhardt Claims Broken Piston
May Have Caused Lake Megantic disaster
Chicago Illinois USA - Before a 72-car freight train derailed and exploded in Lake Megantic on 6 Jul 2013, it caught fire while parked in nearby Nantes.
That fire's role in the accident remains unclear, but an executive from the railroad operator says it may have originated from a broken piston on one of the train's four locomotives.
On Thursday, Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) chairman Ed Burkhardt told the Globe and Mail he believes a broken piston caused unburned fuel to seep into the locomotive's engine, creating sparks and smoke that would have only worsened as the machine's engine continued to run.
Representatives from the Transportation Safety Board wouldn't confirm Burkhardt's theory.
Since the day that explosion killed 47 and destroyed downtown Lake Megantic, the TSB has been investigating the cause of the derailment.
"It's premature for us to say exactly what caused the fire in Nantes," said TSB spokesperson John Cottereau.
"We're looking into absolutely everything. The brakes, the engine, the condition of the tracks and, yes, the cause of the fire in Nantes. As we get more information, we'll continue to make that information public. You won't have to wait until the report is finished."
The TSB's investigation is expected to take another few months, but MMA has been conducting its own preliminary investigation into the crash.
The fire began shortly after the train's conductor, Tom Harding, parked it and left it idling before retiring for the evening on 5 Jul 2013.
After firefighters extinguished the blaze, they shut off the locomotive's engine, causing its air brakes to bleed and gradually release.
The train began sliding toward Lake Megantic minutes after they left the scene.
This air-brake release shouldn't have been a problem given that the train also has a series of hand brakes, but it is unclear how many were applied.
Burkhardt had previously claimed the derailment was linked to the Nantes fire department "tampering" with the unattended train.
An engineer for one of Canada's largest rail companies told The Gazette that Burkhardt's broken piston claim is "plausible."
"Flammable liquid would have been spraying all over the place so, yeah, it makes sense," said the engineer, who wished to remain anonymous.
"Now whether that's really what happened? We'll see. But if that was the case, then the engine should have been turned off."
The Quebec provincial police are investigating the crash to determine whether anyone is criminally at fault in the matter.
Families of the 47 victims have filed a class-action lawsuit against MMA.