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Lac-Megantic locomotive suitable for museum exhibit or scrap heap, local says

The MMA locomotive that led the train that crashed in Lac-Megantic is pictured going through Nantes, Que. on June 7, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Andre St-Amant

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The MMA locomotive that led the train that crashed in Lac-Megantic is pictured going through Nantes, Que. on June 7, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Andre St-Amant

MONTREAL - The owner of a Lac-Megantic bar incinerated in last year's rail disaster says he would be equally comfortable seeing the train's locomotive become a museum exhibit or scrap metal.

Musi-Cafe owner Yannick Gagne spoke to The Canadian Press about the upcoming U.S. auction to sell off the lead locomotive from the oil train that derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in his Quebec town.

Gagne made the comments Wednesday, a couple of hours before Quebec provincial police revealed they had taken steps to try and stop the sale of the locomotive that played a key role in the deadly Lac-Megantic rail disaster.

Locomotive MMA 5017 was left unattended before it broke loose and led a runaway train carrying volatile crude oil into the heart of Lac-Megantic. It decoupled from the train and safely rolled away from the inferno.

The auctioneer says while MMA 5017 is no longer in operating condition, he believes it could be refurbished and put back to work.

Gagne said he would have no concerns if the locomotive eventually hauled trains again — or if it were destroyed.

"Whether it returns to work or not, it doesn't do much for us," said Gagne, who figures around 30 of the victims from the July 6, 2013 crash died at his bar.

"Scrapping it won't bother people very much because we've already lost everything — it all burned."

The community of 6,000 recently marked the first anniversary of the event, which devastated the downtown core and left many people with deep psychological wounds.

Gagne thinks locals might be open years from now to having MMA 5017 exhibited as a historical artifact, as long as it's presented in a respectful manner.

"Right now we don't want to hear anything about it," said Gagne, who's rebuilding his bar across the tracks from its old location.

"But in the future it might be an item that will be part of history, even if it's negative. A bit like the pieces of the World Trade Center and what was left after that tragedy."

A spokesman for Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy Laroche said Wednesday she had no comment about the auction or the fate of the locomotive.

Meanwhile, the possibility that MMA 5017 could eventually end up in a showcase at Canada's biggest rail museum remained "hypothetical," an Exporail spokesman said Wednesday.

"The locomotive is not on our list of locomotives to be preserved," he said of Exporail, a museum just outside Montreal.

"If it were to be offered to us as a donation, it would have to be reviewed and authorized by the collection committee and then accepted by the board of directors of CRHA (Canadian Railway Historical Association)."

The locomotive is set to be auctioned Aug. 5 at a rail yard in Milo, Maine. The bidding starts at around $10,700 (or US$10,000).

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