July 17, 2013 / 5:28 PM / 4 years ago

Railway lays off staff after Quebec train disaster

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec, July 17 (Reuters) - The railway at the center of North America's deadliest train accident in more than 20 years has laid off a number of people in Maine and Quebec, the company confirmed on Wednesday.

The staffing cutbacks at the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) come 11 days after a runaway train hauling 72 tanker cars of crude oil derailed and exploded in the center of Lac-Megantic, killing some 50 people and leveling the heart of the small town.

"This is because of the track being broken at Lac-Megantic," Cathy Aldana, a vice president at Rail World Inc, the parent company of MMA, told Reuters. "The intent is to rehire the employees when the line is open again."

Aldana could not confirm how many employees were affected by the layoffs, but Canadian media outlets, citing union sources, reported that 19 people were laid off in Quebec alone.

A Quebec union representative was not immediately available for comment.

The disaster in Lac-Megantic has cut off local firms that use the railroad to ship their products to customers, including exports to Maine, just 18 miles (29 km) away.

The center of the town - in the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec - is considered a crime scene and it will likely be weeks to months before trains are able to run again.

Quebec police have said their investigation of the crash is still in its early stages, although they say they are looking at the possibility of criminal negligence.

Canada's new transportation minister, Lisa Raitt, was expected to meet with local officials in Lac-Megantic on Wednesday. Locals are eager for clarity on what help the federal government will offer the community. (Reporting by Phil Wahba in Lac-Megantic and Julie Gordon in Toronto; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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