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Human error possible cause of VIA train crash

:Sunday, April 25, 1999

CANADA: Investigators from Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB) are focussing on incorrectly set points as they
Thamesville wreckage
Photo: Toronto Star
Derailed passenger cars at Thamesville
attempt to establish the cause of the VIA Rail accident that killed two train crewmembers on Friday April 23, 1999.

The points were set so that train 74 was diverted onto the opposite track. The passenger train crew would have had little or no warning of this and they would therefore have had little opportunity to take any action to avert the disaster. Although the speed of the train is not yet known, it was travelling too fast to allow it to negotiate the switch to the other track safely.

A more serious disaster was avoided when a train (train 71) travelling on the opposite track came to a halt about 1000 metres from where train 74 derailed.

According to a CN spokesperson, control of the points at the accident site had been passed to workers who were undertaking ground maintenance work in the area. The set of points is termed a "High Security Switch" requiring the release of a padlock before it can be operated. The control centre has no way of knowing how the points are set as there is no electronic track monitoring in the area. A "target", linked to the points displays a red indication towards approaching trains when the points are set to divert trains to another track. This is not however intended as a "primary warning" of points settings.

It is uncertain how the points came to be left incorrectly set. Don Holbrook, a TSB Team Leader said "What we know for sure is that someone left a manual switch in the reverse position".

The accident occurred at around noon and involved VIA Rail train number 74 consisting of 4 passenger cars hauled by a single locomotive. The train had been en route between Windsor, Ontario and Toronto. The engineer and a trainee engineer were killed. They have been named as Don Blain (45) who had 25 years experiences and Kevin Lihou (34) who had 12 years railroad experience.

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Links
Track switch at fault
Toronto Sun (25/04/99)

Two dead in train crash (Real Movie)
CBC News Online (23/04/99)

Two dead in Canadian train crash
BBC Online Network (24/04/99)

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Transportation Safety Board of Canada
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created on:   Sunday, April 25, 1999 11:53 AM

Copyright © David Fry 1999

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