Decaying railroad ties and the failure of a safety mechanism to prevent a train derailment are cited in a report by British Columbia’s workers’ safety agency as factors in a crash that killed three people and injured two others.
The accident in April 2017 happened on the now-abandoned Western Forest Products rail line at Woss, a community of about 200 residents on Vancouver Island. The railway, known as the Englewood Railway at the time, was the last operating lumber railway in North America.
The WorkSafeBC report says 12 rail cars loaded with logs were being moved when 11 of them suddenly began to roll freely with the force of gravity.
The failure of a so-called “derail” device to stop the runaway cars caused them to crash into five members of a work crew who were either on a rail backhoe or in a “speeder” vehicle, a self-propelled rail car used to transport workers and equipment from location to location along the line.
When the vehicle was hit from behind, the speeder operator instinctively hit the brakes, the report says.
“The loaded cars, speeder, tool car and rail backhoe all continued down the track out of control, gaining speed. Continued attempts by the speeder operator to brake had no effect.”
When the cars and equipment left the tracks, logs loaded in the cars rolled onto the speeder and backhoe, killing three men and seriously injuring two others. The names of those involved in the crash were redacted from the report.
The report says the safety device that was intended to derail free-rolling cars was affixed on decaying ties and when the runaway cars passed by, the “derail” device was easily dislodged.
“Besides the deficiencies related to the ties, WorkSafeBC investigators also found that an insufficient number of spikes were used to fasten the failed derail to the ties,” the report says.
The rail traffic controller broadcast repeated warnings to anyone who might be on the same track but there was no response from anyone, it says.
Western Forest Products Inc., which was not available for comment, was cited with one violation of the Workers Compensation Act for the failure to ensure the health and safety of its workers.
B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena, who represents the residents of Woss in her North Island riding, said the accident has been devastating for the community.
“It’s made a major change to the whole of the North Island because Western has obviously stopped using the train since the accident and transferred to roads, so everybody’s had their lives changed, but particularly the three families. It’s just been devastating.”
The Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash.