MONTREAL-Prime Minister Stephen Harper wished Lac-Megantic residents a safe and speedy return home following a deadly train derailment, as federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair claimed the Conservative government’s policies allowed such a “tragic” accident to unfold.

Harper said in a statement on Saturday “our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those affected by this morning's tragic train derailment and subsequent fires” and the “government is monitoring the situation and we stand by ready to provide any assistance requested by the province.”

Police confirmed there was at least one death, with police warning casualties were certain to mount after the early morning accident, which sent fireballs into the sky.

Mulcair, who visited Lac-Megantic following the derailment, said federal government cost-cutting raised concerns.

“We’ve got to get beyond this new system that they seem to be wanting to put in place of self-regulation. Governments have to regulate in the public interest. Nothing more important in what governments do than taking care of the safety of the public. And this is another case where the government has been cutting in the wrong area,” said Mulcair.

“We are seeing more and more petroleum products being transported by rail, and there are attendant dangers involved in that. And at the same time, the Conservative government is cutting transport safety in Canada, cutting back the budgets in that area,” said Mulcair, who pointed to decreased transportation checks on petroleum at a time when production was increasing.

“We’re not saying this is the specific cause of this accident I want to be clear on that,” Mulcair said. “When we have a discussion about these things in the coming months or years let’s remember this day. We are watching a magnificent little village being burned to the ground by toxic products that were being transported through it."

The train was parked in the nearby town of Nantes at 11:25 p.m., but came unsecured between 1-1:30 a.m.

The unmanned locomotive eventually rolled into Lac-Megantic, where the derailment led to major fire damage which firefighters were still putting out Saturday afternoon.

“We have to act responsibly,” Mulcair said. “This not the kind of thing we can see in Canada.”

The worst train disaster in Canadian history was in 1864 when 99 people died in a crash in Saint-Hilaire.


This article has been modified to clarify Mr. Mulcair's comments.