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TSB finds CN at fault

Cheakamus derailment a result of improper training, incorrect assembly of train

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Almost two years after it happened, the Transportation Safety Board says that improper training and faulty technology led to the CN train derailment that dumped 40,000 tonnes of caustic soda into the Cheakamus River.

The TSB report, which was released Wednesday morning in Squamish, states that the day before the accident, an older locomotive was set up at the front of the train, while two mid-train locomotives’ engines were set to pull in the wrong direction. An alarm sounded, but didn’t specify there was an error in the mid-train locomotives, so the problem went untreated.

The mid-train engines eventually became inoperative, and all pulling power was placed on locomotives at the front of the train, which led to a loss in speed. As another locomotive at the head of the train was powered up to prevent a stall, the light, empty cars behind “stringlined” to the inside of the curve, resulting in the derailment.

The accident killed over half a million fish and caused extensive damage to the river.

Acting mayor of Squamish, Corinne Lonsdale, said the accident had a huge impact on the local environment and economy.

“We live in God’s country, and we take pride in our environment and we try to be good stewards of the land and to see that type of thing happening to our ecosystem is pretty devastating.”

Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob said the accident had a particularly harsh impact on the First Nation population.

“There’s only so many fish in that river and every time that something happens, whether it be forestry or whatever… it’s a real problem for our people, who really still rely on the resources.”

Jacob also pointed out that, given the four-year spawning cycle of salmon, they won’t know how the accident has impacted fish populations for another two years.

TSBs report found that a lack of training and supervision contributed to the accident, noting concerns with placing the safest technology in lead positions, and improving crews’ assessment of alarms.

“The Squamish Subdivision is one of the most challenging railway lines in Canada,” Wendy A. Tadros, Chair of TSB, said in a release Wednesday,

“It is not like operating between Edmonton and Winnipeg, or even between Vancouver and Jasper. This is an extreme mountainous environment with curves that are twice as sharp and grades more than twice as steep as on other CN main lines. There is no room for error.”

Lonsdale agreed that local terrain is very different than most regions of Canada, and believes part of the problem may have been insufficient training when BC Rail was transferred to CN.

“The training wasn’t there to familiarize CN with the operating procedures on the terrain that we have on the BC Rail Line, and that’s really unfortunate.”

Based on the findings of the report, Lonsdale said she believes the accident was preventable, and was surprised that crews were not alerted to the problem, despite the alarm.

The report comes less than one month before the two-year statute of limitations on suing CN comes to a close, Squamish Nation filed legal action against CN almost one month ago.

Jacob would not comment on how TSBs findings would impact their suit.

Despite the devastating effects the accident has had on the environment and local economy, Lonsdale credits CN for stepping in to cover costs of clean-up and consultants, and helping with projects to assist in recovery of the river.

Lonsdale said Squamish Council will be watching to ensure that steps are taken to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future.

“We need to make sure that there’s change affected.”

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