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Hinton Train Disaster 8

The other weekend, when Han and I were in Alberta, we stayed for a night in Hinton, Alberta. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this town has some significance to me, but I couldn’t quite remember exactly what it was about this town.

On the morning of February 8th, 1986, a VIA passenger train collided with Canadian National Railway freight train, killing 23 people in total. This train collision has somewhat haunted me since I saw a special on it on TV a while back. They interviewed a survivor who desperately wanted to save a little boy who was burning alive, but he couldn’t get to him through the flames, so he had to watch the poor kid die. I can only imagine how the image of that boy would haunt him forever.

The other intriguing part of this train collision is the simple question about how this could have happened in the first place. After a thorough investigation of the accident, it was revealed that there were safety measures that were frequently bypassed by CN employees, and this was simply part of the culture. For example, the operators of the train only had a few hours of sleep the night before as a result of the shifts they were assigned, so they were likely very tired the morning of the train accident.

Another safety measure that was typically bypassed is that the locomotive engineers would wedge a lunchbox on the pedal to hold it down to effectively put the train in “autopilot” mode. This was to prevent the train from going into an automatic emergency brake if the engineer fell asleep briefly. So it was likely that the CN train engineers were using this “deadman’s pedal” that day, and engineer Jack Hudson and brakeman Mark Edwards had most likely fallen asleep at the front of the train.

Another problem was with the communication between the front of the train and the caboose. The only survivor of the freight train was the conductor, Wayne Smith who was riding in the caboose at the time of the collision. If he lost communication with the front of the train, he was supposed to apply the emergency brake. With the train traveling much faster than the maximum speed allowed, Smith should have known to stop the train. When he testified, he appeared to be lying to the panel. The most likely scenario is that he fell asleep as well and didn’t know what was going on until the train collided. I think the panel was correct in blaming CN management for its safety practices instead of laying the blame on Smith, since he already had to deal with losing 2 of his friends, living through life knowing that he might have been able to save them.

  • http://www.georgepechtol.com/ george

    i can’t believe that you stayed in hinton – the armpit of alberta! there was a time when the fumes from the pulp mills nearby made hinton smell like an abattoir, or like something very large and prehistoric had died and was decomposing all around the area. i hope that it was worth the experience though. you know that you were only three hours west of edmonton, right? i’ve made that drive stone cold drunk in the middle of winter more times than i can confess to my parents!!
    that was a tough day – the day of the train wreck. lots of tough times around CN issues in the late 80′s.
    - g

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 Jim

    Well, we didn’t stay right in Hinton itself, we stayed out in the country about 20 minutes outside of Hinton in that little cabin on the Athabasca river (See previously posted pictures).

    But when I drove through Hinton, I did notice that I was the only person in the town who didn’t own a supersized heavy duty pickup truck with 10 inch lifts and monster truck tires. It was a bit of a hick town indeed.

    I did realize that we weren’t far from Edmonton. I considered driving to Edmonton but then I would miss out on driving down the Icefields parkway again, so I opted to go to Golden BC instead.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16914323431363364140 johnoconnor6

    Hinton Train Disaster,Insufficent Blame Given To Track Protection.Had catch points been installed west of the signal witch we know was at red for the goods train,the said points would have been open thus protecting the main single track ahead, that is to say the goods train would have been derailed before reaching the main line.

  • Anonymous

    My boyfriends mother was killed in this train crash. Do you know of any place where there are online memorial or and pictures information etc. Her name was Randi – Lou Hockey. He was 16 at the time and the last words he said to her were angry ones because they were moving and he was mad about it….Her death has haunted him and his brother and led to addictions etc. I want to help him. information can be sent to dawnhodgins@shaw.ca

  • http://1800theeagle.com/injury-lawyer/ Tucson Medical Malpractice

    In an occupation where it needs total focus, the company should have scheduled their shifts in a way that everyone got enough rest. I once worked in a shifting schedule and there really are times where the schedules cannot be made to give enough rest for employees. I’m just lucky that my job is not life-threatening without focus but of course it affects the quality of work.

  • http://1800theeagle.com/injury-lawyer/ Tucson Medical Malpractice

    In an occupation where it needs total focus, the company should have scheduled their shifts in a way that everyone got enough rest. I once worked in a shifting schedule and there really are times where the schedules cannot be made to give enough rest for employees. I’m just lucky that my job is not life-threatening without focus but of course it affects the quality of work.

  • dave

    Smith should have been charged, but agree he was a secondary cause. If you have worked at CN, you would know it is management, union culture and enforcement issues. I have seen employees smoking pot on the job, but union…. Appathy…

    Set asside union sqeal, bring in physicals, drug and alcohol tests every 3 months and different doctors…not the rubber stamp horse doctors…and include management.

  • dave

    Smith should have been charged, but agree he was a secondary cause. If you have worked at CN, you would know it is management, union culture and enforcement issues. I have seen employees smoking pot on the job, but union…. Appathy…

    Set asside union sqeal, bring in physicals, drug and alcohol tests every 3 months and different doctors…not the rubber stamp horse doctors…and include management.