Investigations into a fatal Canadian Pacific runaway train continue nearly a year afterward

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FIELD, British Columbia — Nearly a year after a runaway grain train derailed in the mountains of British Columbia, killing three Canadian Pacific railroaders, questions remain about what led to the tragedy.

On Feb. 4, 2019, a westbound grain train near the Alberta-British Columbia border began to roll down Kicking Horse Pass shortly after a new crew had arrived. Prior to the crew change, the train had gone into emergency and had been sitting at the top of the 2.2% grade for nearly three hours. The train rolled downhill for two miles before derailing between the Upper and Lower Spiral Tunnels east of Field, British Columbia. All but 13 of the train’s 112 cars derailed. The three locomotives ended up in the Kicking Horse River, killing all three crew members on board. 

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada quickly sent a team of investigators to British Columbia. However, aside from a few brief updates on their progress in February and April of last year, officials have been tight-lipped about the investigation. A TSB spokesperson tells Trains that it could be months before any new information is made public.

“The investigation is still ongoing and the TSB has no new information to provide about it at this time,” says Alexandre Fournier.

Fournier adds that it is a “complex” case and that it has been designated a “class 2 investigation,” meaning it could take up to 600 days — nearly two years — to complete.

Meanwhile, the wreck is again making headlines in Canada after CBC News aired an interview with a former CP police officer who alleges that the railroad denied him access to key pieces of evidence and witnesses during the course of his own investigation into the wreck. The officer called it a “cover-up” but the railroad has adamantly denied the allegations.

“The way the stories are framed is both disgraceful and sensational,” says CP President and CEO Keith Creel.

On Tuesday, the lead TSB investigator, Don Crawford, told CBC that he believed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police should look into whether or not the railroad’s “negligence” led to the wreck. A TSB spokesperson quickly issued a statement later saying that was not the opinion of the board.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference say they agree that an independent criminal inquiry should take place.

“Three of our brothers died in that derailment,” says the president of Teamsters Canada, François Laporte. “If CP has nothing to hide, they should welcome an outside investigation for the sake of the families and all those affected by this disaster.”
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