Report on VIA derailment raises concern over track inspection at grade crossings

Transportation Safety Board issues report on 2019 incident involving 'Ocean,' which saw two cars dragged a mile after derailing at broken rail
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The final two cars of VIA's Ocean are off the track after an April 2019 derailment.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
A trestle shows the damage from two derailed cars being dragged across it.
Transportation Board of Canada

A rail which broke at a grade crossing — where normal visual or ultrasonic track inspection is limited — is blamed for a 2019 VIA Rail Canada derailment near Coal Branch, New Brunswick, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which expressed concerns about the lack of rail inspection requirements at such locations.

The April 4, 2019, accident involving VIA’s eastbound Montreal-Halifax Ocean occurred when the train was traveling at approximately 60 mph over a crossing at Lakeville Road near Coal Branch. The web of the north rail — the narrow section between the head and foot — fractured as the train passed, derailing the last two cars, which remained upright. Occupants of the final car, a Park class dome-lounge-observation, were unable to reach the emergency brake while bracing themselves to avoid being thrown around, and the crew member in the final car was unable to contact the train’s head end because his portable radio was thrown out of reach at the moment of derailment. The train ended up continuing another mile beyond the point of derailment before stopping. Three passengers were treated at the site for minor injuries.

Subsequent investigation found that a 119-inch section of rail broke at the point of the derailment, having corroded at an accelerated rate because of winter conditions at the crossing including the use of road salt.

The board’s summary of the incident notes that Transport Canada rules on track inspection and maintenance do not specifically address corrosion, and that the resulting lack of provisions to inspect the rail web at grade crossings could lead to similar failures elsewhere.

The full report is available here.

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