Two veteran locomotive conductors are dead and another engineer injured as a result of a June 30 train derailment 40 km north of the town of Lillooet.
Both CN Rail and the federal Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the derailment, which caused a locomotive and a loaded rail car carrying lumber to derail and tumble 300 metres down an embankment over the Fraser River.
But while it could be a year before investigators determine the exact cause of the accident, on Wednesday (July 5) Transport Canada issued a Notice and Order to CN requiring the freight carrier to use locomotives with dynamic braking system between Kelly Lake and Polley where the incident took place. Engineers had previously requested locomotives with dynamic brakes for that section track, although it was not required by Transport Canada at the time of the incident.
In addition, Transport Canada, CN and other rail companies pledged to review the use of dynamic brakes on all lines in B.C.
"I am very concerned about the recent CN derailment in British Columbia which resulted in fatal injuries to two CN employees and serious injuries to a third one," said federal Transportation Minister Lawrence Cannon. "We are ordering CN to use dynamic brake-equipped locomotives in the Lillooet area as an added safety precaution on this steep downhill slope until the causes and contributing factors of this tragic accident can be determined."
Dynamic braking systems use the engine to reduce speed, just as a driver would shifting into third or even second gear when heading downhill. The locomotive that derailed used an air braking, which most likely failed.
Both the NDP transportation critic and a United Transport Union have since voiced concerns over safety at CN, referring to comments made by former B.C. Rail employees who went to work for CN following the takeover in 2004.
There have been several high profile derailments on the line between Vancouver and Prince George over the last two years, including a derailment just north of Squamish in August 2005 that resulted in the release of 40,000 litres of corrosive sodium hydroxide into the Cheakamus River.
Since then CN was been ordered to use distributed power systems for its longer trains, and, following additional derailments, to reduce the length of trains.
According to reports from the surviving engineer, 41-year-old Gordon Rhodes the fatal incident occurred during a routine switching operation. The locomotive was heading downhill towards Lillooet using the loaded lumber car to moderate speed when the trains air brakes failed.
Despite attempts to slow the train using the manual brake on the lumber car, it continued to gain speed. Tom Dodd, the conductor who was attempting the manual brake, reportedly detached the lumber car from the locomotive before it went off the tracks. He was still on board and was killed instantly.
The other two men, Rhodes and Don Faulkner, remained on the locomotive as it continued to pick up speed. Faulkner most likely stayed at the front of the engine, while Rhodes went to the back and either jumped or was thrown clear when the locomotive left the tracks. It was estimated that the locomotive was travelling at about 80 km/h, or about three times the speed limit for that section of track.
Rhodes suffered a chest injury and other cuts and bruises in the fall, and doesnt know what happened to Faulkner. He believes Faulkner was still trying to slow down or stop the train when the derailment occurred.
According to a Vancouver Sun report, engineers concerned about the grade of the hill had recently asked CN for locomotives with dynamic braking systems.
This was the first reported fatality for CN railway workers since a bridge collapsed in 2003 near McBride, B.C.