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TSB authorized Lac-Megantic locomotive's trip to U.S., where it was nearly sold

Jean Laporte, chief operating officer of the Transportation Safety Board, attends a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, January 23, 2014. Canada's Transportation Safety Board is shedding light on how the locomotive from the Lac-Megantic disaster ended up at a United States rail yard where it nearly went to auction. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

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Jean Laporte, chief operating officer of the Transportation Safety Board, attends a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, January 23, 2014. Canada's Transportation Safety Board is shedding light on how the locomotive from the Lac-Megantic disaster ended up at a United States rail yard where it nearly went to auction. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

MONTREAL - Canada's Transportation Safety Board is shedding light on how the locomotive from the Lac-Megantic disaster ended up at a United States rail yard where it nearly went to auction.

The TSB's chief operating officer said the lead engine in last summer's deadly derailment was shipped to the railway's facility in Maine after the agency had tested the machine and removed key components for its investigation.

"We had no use for the whole locomotive," Jean Laporte said in an interview Monday, a day before the TSB was set to release its final report on the crash, which destroyed part of the Quebec town and killed 47 people.

"We've asked the company (Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway) to just hold onto it until the investigation was completed."

Last month, Quebec provincial police were forced to ask a creditor for the now-bankrupt MMA to pull the machine from an auction at the Derby Rail Yard. The police force asked that locomotive MMA 5017 remain in storage until the completion of criminal proceedings.

But the fact the engine, which played an important role in the events that led to the disaster, was shipped across the border in the first place has caused concern.

The lawyer for engineer Thomas Harding has said his client's trial on criminal-negligence charges could have a "major issue" because the locomotive was allowed to leave the jurisdiction of Canadian authorities.

Tom Walsh says he also has concerns about the chain of possession of evidence.

The locomotive is stored at a facility owned, until recently, by MMA, whose Canadian subsidiary and three of its employees — including Harding — are facing criminal charges for the derailment.

The railway's employees brought the engine to the yard now owned by Central Maine and Quebec Railway, which bought MMA.

The U.S.-based trustee, who oversaw the MMA bankruptcy file, said the workers facing criminal charges had nothing to do with the locomotive's transportation to Maine because they were on leave.

"The company was told to secure it, the company informed the TSB as to exactly where and how it would secure it, and the TSB agreed," Bob Keach said.

"I don't think there was anything untoward about its relocation."

Keach said the engine nearly went to auction on Aug. 5 after the MMA creditor received permission from a U.S. bankruptcy court.

He added that his office and the bank immediately accepted the request by Quebec police to pull it from the sale.

"Their concern was maintaining it as evidence in a criminal trial, in case they were asked by the defence to inspect the locomotive," Keach said.

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