The lead locomotive in the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster has been yanked from a U.S. auction after a request by Quebec provincial police.
The police stepped in after a report by The Canadian Press revealed that locomotive MMA 5017 was slated to be sold on Aug. 5 at a Maine rail yard.
The locomotive played a key role in the events that led to the July, 2013, oil-train derailment that destroyed part of the Quebec town and killed 47 people.
Police have said they wanted to prevent the engine from being sold until after the judicial process is complete.
The Bangor Savings Bank, a creditor for the now-bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, asked the auction house to withdraw the MMA 5017 locomotive from the lineup. The starting bid had been set at $10,000 (U.S.).
A senior executive at the bank said the counsel for the U.S. bankruptcy trustee gave the go-ahead to sell the locomotive.
"It was indeed our understanding … that there was no legal impediment being imposed by the authorities to including 5017 in the auction," Yellow Light Breen wrote in an e-mail.
"However … the [Sûreté du Québec] made it clear that, to the contrary, they needed to maintain control of the locomotive during the criminal proceedings. Both the bankruptcy trustee and the bank readily acceded to that demand."
Canada's Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday the locomotive is being held at the Derby Rail Yard in Milo, Me., on its behalf until it has released its final report on the Lac-Mégantic investigation.
"The locomotive cannot be used or moved until the TSB officially releases it," agency spokeswoman Jacqueline Roy wrote.
Prosecutors have charged train engineer Tom Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaître. Each former MM&A employee faces 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death – one for each victim of the catastrophe.
Thomas Walsh, who represents Mr. Harding, said he was surprised to hear "one of the key pieces in the Lac-Mégantic story" had been put up for auction.
"If that were the murder weapon … then you would be thinking, 'Holy smokes,'" Mr. Walsh said.
Mr. Walsh said he wants to find out why someone gave approved selling the locomotive, which he thinks should be locked up just in case, for example, jurors ask to see it during a trial.
He warned it is important for authorities to show who exactly had possession of the locomotive and on which dates.
The Maine locomotive auction is scheduled to move ahead and will feature two dozen locomotives from MM&A's fleet, as well as seven units identified as the property of an affiliate of its former parent company, Rail World Inc.
Auctioneer Adam Jokisch said MMA 5017 is the only unit no longer on offer.
"It was on and then it was off," Mr. Jokisch said.
"I just know that the bank sent an e-mail that said, 'Take that one out of the auction,' and we took it off."