CP Rail ‘normalized’ potentially deadly problems, TSB investigation into fatal derailment finds

Old brakes, extreme cold and an inexperienced trainmaster were all factors that contributed to the fatal CP Rail derailment in the mountains near the B.C.-Alberta border, Canada’s transportation 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. 

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, according to the TSB.

“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.

TSB chair Kathy Fox speaks Thursday at a press conference in Calgary regarding the safety board’s investigation into the deadly Train 301 crash. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Pam Fraser, Paradis’s mother, wants to see similar incidents prevented. But she does not believe the TSB’s report and recommendations will bring about real change.

“They’re all good recommendations,” said Fraser. “They look very, very good on paper, and that’s where they’re going to stay until CP Rail or possibly Transport Canada or our prime minister, in fact, his government, enforces action.”

Speaking Thursday in Ottawa, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said the government is still going over the report.

“We’re going to learn a lot from their report from their full investigation,” said Alghabra. “They have recommendations. We’re going to look into them and build on what we’ve done.”

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 train operations safer.

CP alleges ‘inaccuracies and misrepresentations’

But in a written statement released Thursday afternoon, CP Rail said the TSB had “misrepresented the facts” surrounding the circumstances of the derailment.

The railway says it was the relief crew, not the original crew, which chose not to immediately apply handbrakes. 

“Both crews and trainmaster agreed on the appropriate steps to be taken in line with existing procedure,” said CP.

CP also denied the failure of Train 301’s brakes. 

“The train involved in the incident was fully functional, met all industry standards and passed all regulatory brake test inspections,” wrote the company. 

CP says it will address what it described as “inaccuracies and misrepresentations” directly with the TSB.

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.

The aftermath of the 2019 train derailment in B.C. that killed three crew members. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

In 2020, Fraser 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).

Fraser wants CP to prioritize safety over profits and for the railway to stop policing itself. 

The RCMP investigation into the derailment is ongoing.

2 lawsuits

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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