Brake failure in the cold led to fatal CP derailment, TSB says

by Alanna Smith THE CANADIAN PRESS

Recovered from the rubble of a fatal train derailment near the British Columbia-Alberta boundary was an unfiled hazard report that outlined dangers with braking on that fateful stretch of track.

It was written by engineer Andrew Dockrell, one of three Canadian Pacific Rail employees who died in February 2019, when 99 grain cars and two locomotives plummeted off a bridge near Field, B.C.

Officials with the Safety Transportation Board of Canada said the report was penned the day before the derailment when Dockrell was working on the same section of track. Similar reports had been submitted for several years prior, the board said.

“No risk assessment was conducted and insufficient corrective action was taken,” Kathy Cox, the safety board’s chairwoman, said Thursday with the release of a final investigative report.

It said the locomotive’s brakes failed under prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. It also highlighted systemic safety concerns in the rail industry.

The train was parked on a grade when it started rolling on its own and gained speeds far above the limit for the mountain pass. It derailed at a curve in the tracks and hurtled off the bridge.

Conductor Dylan Paradis and trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer also died.

Warnings ignored

The safety board said another engineer had also warned the trainmaster of brake system irregularities, but they were not seen as problematic. It said the trainmaster’s training and experience did not adequately prepare him to evaluate the circumstances or to make decisions.

The investigation found brake cylinders on the freight cars were leaking compressed air and, worsened by their age and extreme cold, reached a critical threshold before the brakes gave out.

The board made three recommendations to Transport Canada to enhance safety of train operations in cold weather.

It wants enhanced testing standards and requirements for time-based maintenance on brake cylinders for freight cars operating in similar terrain. It also calls for installation of automatic parking brakes and for CP to demonstrate its safety management is effective.

“We can’t change the past. We can’t undo what’s happened. But what we can do is make recommendations so these sorts of things don’t happen again,” said Fox.

The derailment prompted a criminal investigation by the RCMP. Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet has said it continues with no timeline for completion.

The families of two of the men filed a lawsuit last April alleging negligence against CP, its CEO, board of directors, CP police and the federal minister of transport.