A locomotive mechanic suspects some sort of mechanical issue caused the braking system to lose power caused this week’s deadly derailment in the Rocky Mountains. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘A major challenge:’ Railway in B.C. derailment details harsh weather challenges

CALGARY — A report by the railway company involved in this week’s deadly derailment in the Rocky Mountains details how challenging it is to run trains in frigid temperatures.

“Harsh winter conditions are an inescapable reality in Canada’s northern climate,” says a document titled White Paper: Railroading in the Canadian Winter on Canadian Pacific Railway’s website.

“Winter has a profound impact on a railway’s operations and its ability to maintain service for its customers.”

A Vancouver-bound train with 112 grain cars was parked with its air brakes engaged on a grade east of Field, B.C., when it started moving on its own around 1 a.m. Monday. The train sped up to well over the limit before 99 cars and two locomotives hurtled off the tracks. It was about -20 C at the time.

Engineer Andrew Dockrell, conductor Dylan Paradis and trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer died in the crash.

The white paper said cold increases air leakage from a train’s air- brake system that results in varying air pressures between the head and tail end of a train.

“This is a major challenge.”

Trains are shortened when temperatures dip below -25 C to ensure pressure remains consistent throughout their entire length, the report said.

A union representative has said the derailed train was shorter than the 135 cars CP has run in recent years. But a veteran Boston-based engineer said 112 cars is large for a train of full grain hoppers.

“Our forefathers in the business would never have put a train together that big under those climatic conditions and expected it to run smoothly,” said Joe Mulligan with Railroad Workers United, a volunteer-run group of rank-and-file railroaders across North America.

The Transportation Safety Board has said the train was parked for two hours before it began to move on its own. Handbrakes were not applied, the board said.

“It would have taken an awful lot of handbrakes to hold a train back that big,” said Mulligan, who added there was nothing to be done once the train was in motion.

The Calgary-based railway said in the report that it also places locomotives at different points along a train in the winter. Distributing power that way makes it quicker to pressurize air brakes. The train that derailed had a locomotive at the front, middle and end.

In extreme cold, dryers are used to prevent moisture from getting into the brakes, which means it takes longer to pressurize them and do the required safety checks, said the winter railroading report.

“This unavoidably increases the train’s terminal dwell time.”

The white paper also said train speeds must be reduced in frigid temperatures — by at least 16 km/h below -25 C and by at least 32 km/h at -35 C.

Will Young, a locomotive mechanic based in Kansas City, Mo., and an organizer at Railroad Workers United, said cold weather takes a toll on many train components.

“Things break that normally don’t. Steel just becomes brittle. Rubber seals just harden and don’t work.”

Young said he suspects some sort of mechanical issue caused the braking system to lose power. That could have set off the chain of events that led to the catastrophe.

“It only takes that ever-so-slight touch of momentum.”

Just Posted

1,200 runners came out to Woody’s RV Marathon in Red Deer

Red Deer’s Matthew Hope ran in the Woody’s RV World Marathon for… Continue reading

Two men steal 16 year old’s car at gunpoint in Alberta

RCMP are looking for two men who allegedly produced a handgun and… Continue reading

Mother of five who died in hit and run in central Alberta a huge loss to family, police say

Rocky Mountain House RCMP continue to investigate hit and killed case on… Continue reading

‘Rope-a-dope’: Environmentalists say Alberta war room threat won’t distract them

EDMONTON — Environmental groups targeted by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney are shrugging… Continue reading

Speed, alcohol considered factors in deadly Calgary crash: police

CALGARY — The Calgary Police Service says two people are dead after… Continue reading

WATCH: First Red Deer Market of 2019

The event is held every Saturday in the Servus Arena parking lot

Cast your votes for the Best of Red Deer

Nominations for the Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are officially… Continue reading

Speaker stuns Morehouse grads, to pay off $40M student debt

A billionaire technology investor stunned the entire graduating class at Morehouse College… Continue reading

Unions increasingly at odds over replacing troubled Phoenix pay system

OTTAWA — The federal team charged with finding a replacement for the… Continue reading

Sisters of Ste-Anne hold unique garage sale before giving up Montreal convent

MONTREAL — The Montreal-area Sisters of Ste-Anne are hosting a unique garage… Continue reading

Canadian pilot Patrick Forseth killed in Honduras plane crash: sister

TRUJILLO, Honduras — A British Columbia woman says her pilot brother was… Continue reading

As states pass restrictive abortion laws, questions surface

ATLANTA — As multiple states pass laws banning many abortions, questions have… Continue reading

Pelosi being honoured with JFK Profile in Courage Award

BOSTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is being honoured with the 2019… Continue reading

India’s marathon national election reaches the finish line

KOLKATA, India — Voting in India’s mammoth national election ended Sunday with… Continue reading

Most Read