Occupational Health & Safety

Derailed Train's Brakes Not Applied, Investigators Find

The Feb. 26 VIA Rail accident in Burlington, Ontario demolished the locomotive and killed three crewmen in it.

Investigators from Canada's Transportation Safety Board have determined why a VIA Rail passenger train derailed Feb. 26 while switching tracks in Burlington, Ontario, about 35 miles southwest of Toronto: Train 92 was traveling at 67 mph at the time, more than four times above the maximum authorized speed of 15 mph at that crossover, investigator-in-charge Tom Griffith reported.

Three VIA Rail workers died in the crash, which demolished the locomotive. VIA Rail, which operates the national rail system for the Government of Canada, said there were 75 passengers and five crew members on train 92, bound from Niagara Falls to Toronto, when the locomotive and all five cars derailed at 3:30 p.m. local time. The workers who died were Ken Simmonds, 56, and Peter Snarr, 52, both from Toronto and both with more than 30 years of service as locomotive engineers with CN and VIA. The third was Patrick Robinson, 40, of Cornwall, Ontario, described as a new VIA employee who was on board as an observer as part of his familiarization program.

Many passengers on the train were injured. "This is a truly heart-rending situation for all of us at VIA. Our sincerest condolences go out to the family members of our employees who died in the line of duty yesterday, and our thoughts and prayers to those passengers who were injured," Marc Laliberté, VIA's president and chief executive officer, said the following day. "Last night, we immediately began to investigate the accident in order to determine the cause or causes and will continue until we find out what went wrong and have put in place measures to prevent any such recurrence. We will be offering our full collaboration to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and Transport Canada in their inquiries and will be working in concert with local authorities and CN, the track owner."

Griffith said the train's black box indicated the brakes were not applied at the time of the crash. He said the brakes and signals were functioning properly.

The findings caused some to call for positive train control systems and voice recorders to be mandated for Canadian passenger trains.

"In Canada, we have voice recorders aboard aircraft and ships, but not yet on trains," said Wendy Tadros, chair of the Transportation Safety Board. "As early as 2003, the board made a recommendation calling for voice recorders on locomotives. In light of this latest accident, I urge Transport Canada and the railway industry to take immediate action on this important safety issue."

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