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Probe opened in Canada derailment

  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

    This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6. At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, emergency personnel look over the debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

    This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, emergency personnel look over the debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6. At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, emergency personnel look over the debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

    This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, emergency personnel look over the debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6. At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

  • In a Monday, July 8, 2013 photo provided by Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press, the downtown core lies in ruins in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in a Surete du Quebec. Thirteen people are confirmed dead and forty more are listed as missing after a train derailed ignited tanker cars carrying crude oil.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press)

    In a Monday, July 8, 2013 photo provided by Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press, the downtown core lies in ruins in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in a Surete du Quebec. Thirteen people are confirmed dead and forty more are listed as missing after a train derailed ignited tanker cars carrying crude oil. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press)

  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows wrecked oil tankers and debris  from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

    This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6. At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

  • In a Sunday, July 7, 2013 photo, firefighters take a break on a set of train wheels in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in a Surete du Quebec handout photo made available Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Thirteen people are confirmed dead and forty more are listed as missing after a train derailed ignited tanker cars carrying crude oil. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press)

    In a Sunday, July 7, 2013 photo, firefighters take a break on a set of train wheels in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in a Surete du Quebec handout photo made available Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Thirteen people are confirmed dead and forty more are listed as missing after a train derailed ignited tanker cars carrying crude oil. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press)

  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

    This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6. At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)

  • Charred tanker cars are piled up in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Tuesday, July 9, 2013.   Investigators are looking for the cause of the fiery oil train derailment Saturday that led to the explosions that killed at least 13 people. (AP Photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS,Jacques Boissinot )

    Charred tanker cars are piled up in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Investigators are looking for the cause of the fiery oil train derailment Saturday that led to the explosions that killed at least 13 people. (AP Photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS,Jacques Boissinot )

  • Clean up continues at the scene of the Lac-Mégantic, Que. runaway oil train derailment and explosion on Tuesday July 9, 2013. Investigators looking for the cause of a fiery oil train derailment are zeroing in on whether an earlier blaze on the same train may have set off a chain of events that led to the explosions that killed at least 13 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

    Clean up continues at the scene of the Lac-Mégantic, Que. runaway oil train derailment and explosion on Tuesday July 9, 2013. Investigators looking for the cause of a fiery oil train derailment are zeroing in on whether an earlier blaze on the same train may have set off a chain of events that led to the explosions that killed at least 13 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Floating barriers are on the Chaudiere River  in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, as crews try to contain 100,000 liters (27,000 gallons) of light crude that spilled from the tankers after the fiery oil train derailment Saturday. There are fears it could flow into the St. Lawrence River all the way to Quebec City.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot )

    Floating barriers are on the Chaudiere River in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, as crews try to contain 100,000 liters (27,000 gallons) of light crude that spilled from the tankers after the fiery oil train derailment Saturday. There are fears it could flow into the St. Lawrence River all the way to Quebec City. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot )

  • Workers comb through the debris Tuesday, July 9, 2013 in Lac-Magantic, Quebec.  The fiery oil train derailment early Saturday caused explosions and fires that devasted the town.  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

    Workers comb through the debris Tuesday, July 9, 2013 in Lac-Magantic, Quebec. The fiery oil train derailment early Saturday caused explosions and fires that devasted the town. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Investigators dig through the rubble for victims of Saturday's  fiery oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., Tuesday, July 9, 2013.  Thirteen dead have been found and about 40 people are still missing. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot)

    Investigators dig through the rubble for victims of Saturday's fiery oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Thirteen dead have been found and about 40 people are still missing. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot)

  • Workers comb through debris Tuesday, July 9, 2013, after a train derailed Saturday causing explosions of railway cars carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

    Workers comb through debris Tuesday, July 9, 2013, after a train derailed Saturday causing explosions of railway cars carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Evacuees Alexys Jacques, left and his mother Lyne Boulanger leave an evacuation center to head back home after the evacuation order was reduced to a smaller perimeter, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on Tuesday July 9, 2013. Officials said Tuesday that the fire is finally under control and that 1,200 out of about 2,000 evacuees will be able to go back to their homes.  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

    Evacuees Alexys Jacques, left and his mother Lyne Boulanger leave an evacuation center to head back home after the evacuation order was reduced to a smaller perimeter, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on Tuesday July 9, 2013. Officials said Tuesday that the fire is finally under control and that 1,200 out of about 2,000 evacuees will be able to go back to their homes. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)
  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, emergency personnel look over the debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)
  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, emergency personnel look over the debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)
  • In a Monday, July 8, 2013 photo provided by Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press, the downtown core lies in ruins in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in a Surete du Quebec. Thirteen people are confirmed dead and forty more are listed as missing after a train derailed ignited tanker cars carrying crude oil.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press)
  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows wrecked oil tankers and debris  from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)
  • In a Sunday, July 7, 2013 photo, firefighters take a break on a set of train wheels in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in a Surete du Quebec handout photo made available Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Thirteen people are confirmed dead and forty more are listed as missing after a train derailed ignited tanker cars carrying crude oil. (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec via The Canadian Press)
  • This photo provided by Surete du Quebec, shows debris from a runaway train on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada.  A runaway train derailed igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil early Saturday, July 6.  At least thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.  (AP Photo/Surete du Quebec, The Canadian Press)
  • Charred tanker cars are piled up in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Tuesday, July 9, 2013.   Investigators are looking for the cause of the fiery oil train derailment Saturday that led to the explosions that killed at least 13 people. (AP Photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS,Jacques Boissinot )
  • Clean up continues at the scene of the Lac-Mégantic, Que. runaway oil train derailment and explosion on Tuesday July 9, 2013. Investigators looking for the cause of a fiery oil train derailment are zeroing in on whether an earlier blaze on the same train may have set off a chain of events that led to the explosions that killed at least 13 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)
  • Floating barriers are on the Chaudiere River  in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, as crews try to contain 100,000 liters (27,000 gallons) of light crude that spilled from the tankers after the fiery oil train derailment Saturday. There are fears it could flow into the St. Lawrence River all the way to Quebec City.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot )
  • Workers comb through the debris Tuesday, July 9, 2013 in Lac-Magantic, Quebec.  The fiery oil train derailment early Saturday caused explosions and fires that devasted the town.  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)
  • Investigators dig through the rubble for victims of Saturday's  fiery oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., Tuesday, July 9, 2013.  Thirteen dead have been found and about 40 people are still missing. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot)
  • Workers comb through debris Tuesday, July 9, 2013, after a train derailed Saturday causing explosions of railway cars carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)
  • Evacuees Alexys Jacques, left and his mother Lyne Boulanger leave an evacuation center to head back home after the evacuation order was reduced to a smaller perimeter, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on Tuesday July 9, 2013. Officials said Tuesday that the fire is finally under control and that 1,200 out of about 2,000 evacuees will be able to go back to their homes.  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

Canadian authorities said yesterday they have opened a criminal investigation into the fiery wreck of a runaway oil train in Lac-Megantic as the death toll climbed to 15, with dozens more bodies feared buried in the burned-out ruins.

Quebec police Inspector Michel Forget said investigators have “discovered elements” that have led to a criminal probe. He gave no details but ruled out terrorism.

The death toll rose with the discovery of two more bodies yesterday. About three dozen more people were missing. The bodies that have been recovered were burned so badly they have yet to be identified.

Investigators zeroed in on whether a fire on the train a few hours before the disaster set off a deadly chain of events that has raised questions about the safety of transporting oil in North America by rail instead of pipeline.

The unmanned Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train broke loose early Saturday and sped downhill in the darkness nearly 7 miles before jumping the tracks at 63 mph near the Maine border. All but one of the 73 cars were carrying oil. At least five exploded.

Rail dispatchers had no chance to warn anyone during the train’s 18-minute journey because they didn’t know it was happening themselves, Transportation Safety Board officials said yesterday. Such warning systems are not in place on secondary rail lines, said TSB manager Ed Belkaloul.

The derailment and explosions destroyed about 30 buildings, including the Musi-Cafe, a popular bar that was filled at the time, and forced about a third of the town’s 6,000 residents from their homes.

Resident Gilles Fluet saw the approaching train.

“It was moving at a hellish speed,” he said. “No lights, no signals, nothing at all. There was no warning. It was a black blob that came out of nowhere.”

He had just said goodbye to friends at the Musi-Cafe and left. “A half-minute later and I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” he said.

“There are those who ran fast and those who made the right decision. Those who fooled around trying to start their cars to leave the area, there are probably some who burned in them,” Fluet said. “And some who weren’t fast enough to escape the river of fire that ran down to the lake, they were roasted.”

The same train caught fire hours earlier in a nearby town, and the engine was shut down – standard operating procedure dictated by the train’s owners, Nantes fire Chief Patrick Lambert said.

Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of the railway’s U.S.-based parent company, Rail World Inc., suggested that shutting off the locomotive to put out the fire might have disabled the brakes.

“An hour or so after the locomotive was shut down, the train rolled away,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Lambert defended the fire department. “The people from MMA told us, ‘That’s great – the train is secure, there’s no more fire, there’s nothing anymore, there’s no more
danger,’ ” Lambert said. “We were given our leave, and we left.”

Transport Canada, the government’s transportation agency, said yesterday there are no rules against leaving an unlocked, unmanned, running locomotive and its flammable cargo on a main rail line uphill from a populated area. Officials also said there is no limit on how many oil-filled, single-hull tank cars a train can pull.

Transportation Safety Board investigator Donald Ross said the locomotive’s black box has been recovered but cautioned that the investigation was still in its early stages.

The tanker cars involved in the crash were the DOT-111 type – a staple of the American freight rail fleet whose flaws have been noted as far back as a 1991 safety study. Experts say its steel shell is so thin that it is prone to puncture in an accident.

The derailment also raised questions about the safety of Canada’s growing practice of transporting oil by train, and is sure to support the case for a proposed oil pipeline running from Canada across the U.S. – a project that Canadian officials badly want.

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