OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Quebec government has ordered the rail and fuel companies involved in a devastating train crash that killed 47 people in the town of Lac Megantic to pay for cleaning up the crude oil that spilled in the town and surrounding lakes and rivers.
Quebec Environment Minister Yves-Francois Blanchet invoked powers under a provincial law on Monday to force the companies to take financial responsibility for fixing environmental damage.
"The citizens of Quebec are not the ones that will have to pay for this," Blanchet said in a televised news conference.
The order names Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd (MMA), a unit of Chicago-based Rail World Inc, and Montreal, Maine & Atlantique Canada Cie as well as fuel-services companies World Fuel Services Corp and Western Petroleum Company.
A train operated by MMA carrying light crude derailed on July 6 in the small, tourist town of Lac Megantic, exploding into a giant wall of fire next to a busy nightclub, killing 47 people and flattening the town's core.
Some 5.7 million liters of oil leaked from the rail cars, according to estimates by the Quebec government. Some of that has already been removed but Blanchet said the rehabilitation work must continue nonstop and without cost to taxpayers.
The government has no estimate yet of how long it will take or how much it will cost.
"We are in unknown territory," Blanchet said. "We don't know exactly how long it will take, but we do know the full restoration will be done."
He said the affected companies were expected to respond to his order on Tuesday. MMA and World Fuel were not immediately available for comment.
The town of Lac Megantic's legal representatives wrote previously to MMA to request it handle the cleanup job.
Investigators from the Transportation Safety Board are expected to release an update later this week on their probe of the accident, but they have said they believe the brakes applied on the train were insufficient.
The train, which was hauling 72 tanker cars, was operated by a single engineer and had been parked for the night on a main line uphill from Lac Megantic. After the engineer left, it started rolling downhill, derailed and exploded.
Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson; and Peter Galloway