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A lone engineer failed to set brakes properly on an oil-laden train that derailed and exploded in a small Canadian town, the rail company's head said.
The train derailed on a curve and exploded into a huge fireball on Saturday, destroying the centre of the town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec province.
The death toll from the incident continues to rise, with 20 people confirmed dead and a further 30 still missing.
Edward Burkhardt, the chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, was heckled by locals as he arrived in the devastated town for the first time.
He says the company owes them an abject apology, and told reporters he does not think sabotage was behind the explosion.
Instead, he said an engineer did not set the handbrakes properly.
"Adequate hand brakes were not set on this train and it was the engineer's responsibility to set them," he said.
Before the crash, firefighters had been called to a blaze on board the train while it was stopped in the neighbouring town of Nantes.
Mr Burkhardt has previously blamed the firefighters for the disaster, saying they unwittingly unlocked the train's air brakes when they shut down the locomotive's engines to douse the fire.
He has now clarified that the shutdown of the air brakes "was an important causal factor in this whole thing".
"The fact that when the air brakes released on the locomotive the train ran away would indicate that the hand brakes were not properly applied," he added.
The blaze forced about 2,000 residents to flee their homes, though many of them have now started returning.The coroner's office has asked relatives of the missing to bring in brushes, combs and razors so experts can extract DNA samples from strands of hair.
"They know their loved ones were there, on the site," said Steve Lemay, the parish priest of Lac-Megantic, who has been meeting with families.
"Most of them are now waiting for confirmation - because that makes it official.
"It's clear that they are not waiting for the missing to return."
Canadian police have opened a criminal investigation into the accident, and officials from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada are also investigating.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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