Canada recalls deadly passenger-freight crash 20 years later

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HINTON, Alta. — Twenty-five years to the day after one of Canada’s deadliest train crashes, the Edmonton Sun published the account of one of the heroes of the day. Ken Cuttle saved himself and two passengers by breaking the glass of a dome car and escaping before the car exploded in fire.

On Feb. 8, 1986, VIA Rail Canada train No. 4 left Hinton five minutes behind schedule. The train, a combination of the Vancouver-Toronto Super Continental and the Prince Rupert, B.C., to Edmonton Skeena, was traveling over Canadian National tracks. A subsequent investigation found the crew of a CN freight train ran a red signal at track speed and smashed head-on into No. 4, with neither train’s brakes applied prior to the collision. The crash left 23 people dead and 71 injured.

Cuttle was traveling from Vancouver to Edmonton when the collision occurred 10.5 miles east of Hinton at 8:40 a.m.

I saw what I assumed was a train coming right toward us. But I thought, ‘There are two lines, it was going to pass us,’” Cuttle said. “The next thing, I was on the floor at the back of the carriage, and there was a guy on top of me.”

Recalling his training in the British Royal Marines in World War II, Cuttle used his head to smash the glass of the dome, which was lying on its side. “I shouted to everybody. I said, you know ‘For God’s sake, let’s get bloody out!’

“We’d no sooner hit the deck, then woof, the whole thing went, incinerated,” he said. “There were all these screams and shouting, and then suddenly, deathly silence. Everybody had either been squashed or incinerated.”

An investigation into the crash found the CN crew was probably asleep.
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