Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Remembering the Hinton Disaster

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the collision at Hinton, Alberta on February 8, 1986, in which twenty-three people were killed in the worst train accident in Canada since the 1947 Dugald accident.

CN westbound freight train 413 ran a red light at the end of the double-track and ran into the eastbound VIA Super Continental / Skeena. All four head end crew members were killed, as were 18 of the 36 occupants of the coach behind the two VIA engines and the baggage car. One of the two occupants of the dome car behind the coach was also killed. 82 people were injured.

The reason why the freight ran the red light will likely never be known. The freight was going over the speed limit of 50 MPH when it passed the clear-to-stop signal (yellow over red) and did not slow down as it approached the red signal at the end of double track. The lead locomotive, CN 5586, a GP38-2W, was equipped with a dead-man's pedal but not a Reset Safety Control (RSC) switch. A dead-man's pedal can be fooled by jamming something on it. An RSC switch requires an action to be performed periodically, or the train will be brought to a stop.

This disaster led directly to the requirement that the lead locomotive of all trains in Canada be equipped with an RSC. This was phased in, probably because there were insufficient locomotives available to implement the order on all trains. CN committed to all passenger and "through" freight trains would lead with an RSC-equipped locomotive by January 1, 1988, and all trains would lead with an RSC-equipped locomotive by January 1, 1989. Yard service was excluded.

The VIA train had the following consist: FP7A 6566, F9B 6633, Baggage 617, Coach (Snack Bar) 3229, Skyline 513, Sleeper Ennishore, Sleeper Elcott, FP9Au 6300, Steam Generator 15445, Baggage 9653, Dayniter 5703, Cafe-Lounge 757, Sleeper Estcourt, Steam Generator 15404. The entire first half of the VIA train was retired (up to and including the Elcott).

The CN freight had CN 5586 leading and two SD40s trailing, 5062 and 5104. All units were destroyed in the crash. Unfortunately the SD40s were equipped with RSC devices but were not leading, presumably for reasons of crew comfort.

Hopefully this will remain the worst train accident in recent Canadian history.

A news article remembering the disaster: Edmonton Journal.


Anonymous said...

I still remember it like it was yesterday. The first image I saw on the news was the crushed grain car on top of what was left of the baggage dorm car and the battered Skyline dome. Looking at pictures you can make out what's left of most of the equipment (including the crushed carcasses of the 3 CN units, the broken frame of VIA 6566 lying on its side next to the day coach, the high speed spreader, even the anticlimber from 6566!
A clarification...1 occupant of the dome was indeed killed when the slab side hopper (crushed remains visible far to the west of the main wreckage) flew into it.There is a corresponding gaping hole in the side of Skyline 513 at the point of impact). A second passenger seated in that location was severly injured. Everyone else got out of the Skyline.
The TV recreationsof the event mixed up which grain car "flew through the air". The one that ended up on top of the baggage car and coach did more of a "ski jump" thing as it was pushed up on top of the wreckage by the rest of the train which of course kept piling forward after impact. The spilled grain from this car filled the day coach, smothering the fire to some extent and offering a chance for some to escape, while totally burying others at the opposite end.
Fate and timing just didn't work out for the passengers and crew of the VIA train. #4/6 was running a few minutes late...had it been on time wit would have passed to the east of Dalehurt and 413 might have had more chance to stop after it rolled back onto the mainline (assuming anyone at the front was able to react, or the tail end may have finally realized something was wrong as they slammed back through the switch) At the very least they would have hit another freight train instead and limited the loss of life... The next freight train might have even had enough time to stop and the crew bail out once the dispatcher's board went red indicating something ran through a signal.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks for your recollections, Anon. So many of these disasters could have been radically different with just a few minutes difference in timing... or one word added to a train order.

I don't remember hearing much about the Hinton disaster at the time but I was pretty young at the time.