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Cellphone and Marijuana Use Cited in CP Rail Crash

by on October 16, 2011

The Transportation Safety Board recently released Railway Investigation Report R10V0038 detailing a disturbing set of circumstances surrounding a Canadian Pacific Railway accident in March 2010, near Golden, B.C.

The crew of a CP train hauling 112 empty hopper cars failed to obey a stop signal, and crashed into another train, pulling 142 loaded cars of potash. Both trains measured in excess of 2 kilometres long, or over 1.25 miles. Three locomotives and 26 railcars were derailed in the crash. A 4,500 litre propane tank was punctured, and the resulting fire destroyed a storage shed. Several homes and businesses had to be evacuated.

In addition, approximately 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel were leaked into the surrounding environment, and 85 tonnes of soil impacted by hydrocarbons had to be disposed of, with ongoing reclamation of impacted areas continuing into the following spring of 2011.

Fully Loaded

The derailment spilled 23 railcars loaded with potash. However, according to the TSB’s report, it wasn’t just the potash cars that were loaded:

The locomotive engineer was very concerned that traces of marijuana may be found in his urine. From the time of the accident until he was admitted to the hospital in Golden, he consumed approximately 10 litres of water in an effort the flush any traces of marijuana from his system. This caused hyponetremia (i.e., water intoxication) and at approximately 1950, the locomotive engineer lost consciousness and was immediately air-lifted to Calgary Foothills Hospital for further care and observation.”

In all, 11 hours passed before the engineer was tested for drugs and alcohol, too late for conclusive test results, given the amount of water consumed beforehand. The report states that  It was later determined that the locomotive engineer had been exposed to marijuana, sometime prior to the accident. In an attempt to mask this exposure, he drank approximately 10 litres of water shortly after the accident, …The ingestion of water and the delay in alcohol and drug testing likely affected the usefulness of the tests…” 

Earlier tests on the conductor, after the accident, were negative.

Talking and Texting

The Transportation Safety Board also found that The crew… conducted numerous cellular telephone communications (voice and text) in the 3 hour period prior to the accident. While engaged in these communications, the crew operated the train and performed various safety-critical tasks.”

In B.C., hand-held cellphone use while driving on roadways has been banned for some time. The TSB notes in its findings that Despite the existence of rules and protocols regarding the use of personal electronic devices, not all railway employees working in safety sensitive and safety critical positions understand and accept the risks associated with such distractions, increasing the risk of unsafe train operations.”

After an internal investigation, CP Rail fired the engineer and the conductor.

A Significant Accident

“This was a significant accident caused by crew errors,” said CP Rail spokesperson, Ed Greenberg, who further stated that the railway is taking steps to improve drug testing and tighten its policies on cellphone use as a result of the incident.

Teamsters Canada’s Bill Brehl, recently posted his message to members on the union’s website, urging them not to bring your cellphones to work. If you see someone using a cellphone in an unsafe manner, bring it to that person’s attention. Educate them and get them to stop, And of course, I urge you to never show up at work impaired. The duties that we perform are dangerous enough, without the added risk from drugs and alcohol.”

We commend Mr. Brehl’s efforts, but ask what is the solution if the situation involves multiple crew members or the entire crew engaging in calling and texting on the job?

Mr. Greenberg cites internal steps that CP Rail plans to undertake to “ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Trust and Confidence

What’s missing however, is any mention of a public apology to the community in which this occurred, and to whom these findings could be very unsettling, given the fact that evacuations of some homes and businesses were required, a fire had to be contained, and environmental cleanup continued well into the following year.

Communities need to be able to trust and have confidence in the safe handling of vast amounts of rail freight transported by their homes and businesses. A public apology would be a good indicator as to the value that the railway places upon its relationship with the community, and a clear indication that the railway is an involved, proactive, and integrated part of it.

Surely the community deserves this basic consideration.

© Copyright 2011


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