Thursday, March 01, 2012

VIA Accident Update

Tom Griffith, the lead investigator from the TSB for Sunday's derailment in Ontario, gave a short press conference this morning. You can view it on CTV News. CTV has three separate parts: the conference, an interview with Tom Griffith, and an interview with Emile Therien, past president of the Canada Safety Council.

Take-away points:

  • The "black box" was installed in another engine and all its contents were read.
  • VIA 92 had stopped at a station stop and was accelerating since that stop.
  • The brakes were operational but were not applied.
  • VIA 6444 was going 67 MPH through a 15 MPH crossover switch.
  • The switch was properly lined to transfer the train between tracks.
  • The train's speed was the cause of the derailment.

The big question, of course, is why they were going so fast? It seems obvious that the crew were either unaware they were going to cross over or had overlooked that during the station stop. The TSB's job now is to determine what signal(s) the crew saw, who was operating the locomotive, and if possibly why they accelerated well past the speed limit.

CTV's interviewer seemed startled that there is no external "oversight" on the train's speed. She seemed to believe that there was some mechanism or human overseer that watched the speed of all trains and could intervene if necessary.

Such a technology exists, and it is called Positive Train Control (PTC) in North America. It is not implemented anywhere in Canada to my knowledge, and although it is mandated to be implemented in the USA by 2015, it is very doubtful that that target will be reached. It is complex and very expensive to implement.

PTC could have prevented this accident. However, if you think of it, we do not have any similar system in place for other forms of public transportation like buses and aircraft. The onus is on the driver / pilot / engineer to know the speed limits and follow them.

Emile Therien implied that Transport Canada's implementation of Railway Safety Management Systems (SMS) (essentially self-inspection of the railways) beginning in 2001 has resulted in more accidents. Statistics (and oddly, the current president of the Canada Safety Council, Raynald Marchand) state that SMS has resulted in fewer accidents. SMS makes the railways and employees more accountable for safety, rather than depending on periodic federal inspections, and it makes sense that it would make the railways safer. Transport Canada still provides the regulations.

There's also a CTV story on the conference. CBC has an update on the conference and the class action suit(s).

There is a web site set up to express condolences to the family and friends of the crew:

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