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Criminal charges filed over Quebec railway disaster

MONTREAL --Three railway workers faced criminal charges in a Canadian court Tuesday over the massive explosion of an oil-laden train in Quebec that killed 47 people a year ago.

The three men have each been hit with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death in Canada's worst rail disaster in 15 years.

All three worked for Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A): Jean Demaitre as train operations manager, Richard Labrie as railway traffic controller and Tom Harding, who was the engineer at the controls the night of the Lac-Megantic derailment

They were arrested late Monday and granted bail during Tuesday's brief hearing. A next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 11.

“After examining all the evidence, these three individuals and the company have been accused of criminal negligence causing the deaths of 47 people,” prosecutors said in a statement.

An attorney for Harding told AFP his client would plead not guilty. The other two accused have not spoken publicly.

If convicted of the charges, each could face up to life in prison.

The MM&A train carrying 7.2 million liters of crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in easternmost Canada last July came loose in the middle of the night, rolled downhill unmanned and derailed at the center of the picturesque lakeside town of Lac-Megantic.

Several tanker cars exploded, unleashing an inferno that gutted two square kilometers of the small town of 6,000 residents, about 250 kilometers east of Montreal.

The blaze burned for two days before firefighters managed to get it under control.

Among the victims were 30 people enjoying a few drinks and music at a popular bar, as well as several residents who lived along the tracks.

'Very serious charges'

“People have been waiting for this,” Yannick Gagne, the owner of the Musi-Cafe, told the daily Toronto Star.

The once popular nightspot reopened on Tuesday after being rebuilt from the ground up.

“It's important that someone be found guilty. Are these the right people? We'll soon find out,” Gagne said. “They're very serious charges.”

Train engineer Tom Harding had parked the train on a hill some 12 kilometers from the town, before retiring for the night.

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