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Thursday, June 13, 2013

The VIA 92 Report

This week, the Transportation Safety Board released the highly-anticipated report into the derailment of VIA 92 last year. Having gone through the report (not read it entirely, but 'examined the contents' would be a more apt description), the findings present several interesting conclusions.

As in so many railway accidents, unusual circumstances were important contributing factors. In this instance, the presence of the third crew member in the cab may have changed in-cab interactions. Similarly, the track routing out of Aldershot station was unusual because of emergency track work and the request to unload at Oakville station's platform 1. That the derailment happened in the 1% of the time the crossover was used is not a coincidence.

I find that the report casts doubt on the structural strength of VIA's rebuilt F40 locomotives. The report concluded that the fuel tank was the original one (and thus not up to the newest standards of crashworthiness). Also, as the locomotive was built before the latest safety standards were implemented, it was not as strong as it might have been. Rebuilt locomotives do not currently need to be upgraded to the latest standards either.

I am sorry to read that the blame for the derailment has been largely placed at the feet of the locomotive crew. People do make mistakes, but it is still sad when they do in such safety-critical situations. It seems that the misread signal was likely the cause and I expect there will be a debate about some form of positive train control system, but I doubt one will be implemented.

This accident also highlighted the need for more recording devices to monitor activity on board trains. VIA 6444 did not have a cab camera, so we cannot know what the driver saw. None of VIA's locomotives have in-cab recorders, so we have no idea what the crew were doing or what actions were taken before the derailment took place. I hope that these measures can be adopted quickly for the safety of crew and passengers, not for employer surveillance.

In the end, this accident was an accident. I'm sorry that people died. I am also sorry that, due to the lack of cab recording equipment, we will never know what actually happened.

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