OHS Canada Magazine

Derailment claims three VIA Rail employees

March 6, 2012

Health & Safety Transportation Workplace accident -- fatality

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

Three crew members were killed and 45 passengers were rushed to hospital after a VIA Rail train came off the tracks, around the same spot a freight train derailed four years earlier.

At about 3:30 pm on February 26, a one-engine, five-passenger car train en route to Toronto from Niagara Falls, Ontario slipped off its tracks, flipping the locomotive and the following passenger car onto their sides as they went careening into the side of a nearby building.

VIA Rail employees Ken Simmonds, 56, Peter Snarr, 52, and Patrick Robinson, 40, died in the crash. They were the only ones in the locomotive, at the front of the train, at the time of the crash, says a statement from the company.

Simmonds and Snarr, both from Toronto, had worked more than 30 years as locomotive engineers with both Canadian National Railway and VIA Rail. Robinson, from Cornwall, Ontario, was a new employee on board as part of the company’s familiarization program.


The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) recovered the black box from the VIA Rail crash, which stores information about the train’s speed, amongst other data, the day after the derailment. The TSB reports that the train entered the crossover from one track to the other at approximately 67 miles per hour (mph), more than four times the maximum authorized speed at that crossover of 15 mph.

The TSB will be examining rail traffic control communications, design and function of the switch, functioning of the signal system, the crashworthiness of the cab and attempting to understand if any of these factors influenced the crew’s performance.

Although the black box was recovered, the lack of on-board voice or video recordings is making the investigation challenging, the TSB says in a statement. “In Canada, we have voice recorders aboard aircraft and ships, but not yet on trains,” TSB chair Wendy Tadros says in the statement.

“As early as 2003, the Board made a recommendation calling for voice recorders on locomotives. In light of this latest incident, I urge Transport Canada and the railway industry to take immediate action on this important safety issue,” she says, adding that voice recordings allow investigators to under the environments in which crews operated and decisions made leading up to an accident.

Accident  hit  VIA  Rail  hard,  spokesman  says

The accident has hit VIA Rail pretty hard, says Malcolm Andrews, senior manager of community relations at the company. “VIA only has around 3,000 employees, so we’re a pretty small family when it comes to a big rail operation like we have across Canada. When three of our colleagues lose their lives in the call of duty like this, it’s a very shocking thing,” he says.

“Our passengers who were involved in this, whether they were injured or not, they lived through a very traumatizing experience yesterday, so we’re continuing to reach out to them and offer them whatever assistance we can.”

There were 72 passengers and two other crew members on the train when all six cars derailed. Three of the passengers had to be airlifted to hospital. One broke their back, another has a broken leg and the third suffered a heart attack in the accident, the company’s statement says.

All but nine of the passengers taken to hospital were released by midnight on February 26.

The derailment happened at the 33.3 mile mark of the Canadian National-owned tracks in the Oakville subdivision, the TSB reports, near the same spot where, in February of 2008, a three-locomotive, 139-car freight train derailed while on its way into Toronto. In that incident, a wheel had broken and one of the freight cars derailed as it was navigating a curve. There were no injuries.

VIA Rail returned to normal operations on February 28. Andrews says that the company will wait for the TSB to finish their investigation and is not going to “jump to any conclusions” regarding changes to safety policies.

Transport Canada says in a news release that they will also be launching an investigation into the incident under the Canada Labour Code.


Stories continue below