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Old brakes, extreme cold and inexperience factors in triple fatal train derailment, TSB report finds

Old, untested brakes, extreme cold and an inexperienced trainmaster were all factors which contributed to the fatal CP Rail train derailment in the mountains near the B.C., Alberta border, Canada’s safety watchdog has found.

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) released its 23 findings and three new recommendations following its three-year investigation into what caused Train 301 to roll away from its emergency stop atop the Field Hill in February 2019, reaching speeds of more than 85 km/h.

The TSB’s final report comes following a lengthy investigation into the deaths of three Calgary men: Conductor Dylan Paradis, Engineer Andrew Dockrell, 56, and trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, 26.

The board found common problems, like failing brakes in cold temperatures, had become “normalized” by CP Rail. 

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Victim’s hazard report found at accident site

Over the years, several CP train crews submitted reports outlining dangerous conditions involving braking issues on Field Hill. 

“Yet year after year, the reports were closed,” said said Kathy Fox, TSB Chair. “No risk assessment was conducted and insufficient corrective action was taken.”

In fact, just one day before his death, engineer Andrew Dockrell had descended the same hill using maximum braking available. He prepared a safety hazard report about the dangerous stretch of railway. 

“The safety hazard report he had prepared about the event was recovered from the accident site, but he never had the opportunity to submit it,” said Fox.

The TSB recommendations centre on freight train braking systems and the proposed requirement that CP Rail make improvements in identifying hazards and taking steps to make their train operations more safe.

The families of the victims hope to get some answers today — answers which they hope could effect change to railway safety and policing policies.

“I need my son’s death to make some kind of sense,” said Fraser from her home in High River.

“I maybe can better live with all of this if there can be a purpose.”

Frigid temperatures, runaway train

In early February of 2019, after days of – 30 windchills and a lengthy power failure at CP’s bunkhouse in Field B.C., CP continued to operate its trains through the notoriously dangerous Spiral Tunnels mountain pass. 

The inbound crew was unable to control the speed of Train 301 and made an emergency stop. With the original crew at the end of its shift, a relief crew was brought in.

Train 301, a two-kilometre freight train loaded with grain sat for hours without hand brakes.

Just 10 minutes after the crew transfer, the train — having lost all air pressure — began to move on its own.

What should have been a 52-minute trip down the notoriously dangerous Field Hill took just three minutes as the doomed train reached speeds of more than 85 km/h.

At the historic Spiral Tunnels, 99 grain cars derailed and the train’s lead locomotive landed in the Kicking Horse River.

old brakes extreme cold and inexperience factors in triple fatal train derailment tsb report finds
The aftermath of the 2019 train derailment in B.C. that killed three crew members. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

In 2020, Pam Fraser, the mother of conductor Dylan Paradis, filed official complaints with RCMP, begging them to look into potential negligence in the crash and obstruction by the railway.

Until then, the only police force to formally investigate the crash was CP’s own federally-authorized Canadian Pacific Police Service (CPPS).

The RCMP investigation into the derailment is ongoing.

The Dockrell and Paradis families have filed a lawsuit accusing the TSB of conspiring with CP Rail to block a criminal investigation into the derailment.

The lawsuit, filed in Vancouver, alleged the TSB caved to threats by CP Rail and muzzled its lead investigator in an “elaborate and aggressive” strategy to keep the RCMP from probing the company’s role in the crash.

CP has characterized the suit as “misleading” and says the railway “continues to cooperate fully with all investigations.”

Those families have also launched a separate suit accusing the company of cutting corners to save money at the expense of workers’ safety. 

The allegations have not been proven in court.

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