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Canadian Railroads > Forty Years On, CP's coal train runaway, 1977


Date: 04/12/17 10:52
Forty Years On, CP's coal train runaway, 1977
Author: eminence_grise

A sentimental British song "Forty Years On" asks how we will look back on forty years of friendships and acquaintances as we reach our "Sunset" years.

The passing of a friend and fellow railroader, Clarence Thacker, a day or so ago bought this sentiment into focus for me.

​In November, 1977, a CP coal train ran way on the western slope of Rogers Pass in British Columbia.  The train reached a speed of seventy miles per hour before derailing on a curve. The coal cars had a higher centre of gravity than the locomotives, so they rolled over while the lead locomotives remained upright.

​Clarence was at the controls, as a trainee. None of the five man crew were injured. Seventy nine coal cars, two mid train remote locomotives, a bridge and part of a snowshed were destroyed, and the main line was blocked for over a week.

​I was the head end trainman on a following chemical train, and it was our duty to take our locomotives to rescue the conductor and tail end trainman from the caboose of the wrecked train. We were operating under UCOR Rule 265, proceeding at restricted speed following a signal and communications failure, on the instruction of a nearby company officer with a radio. We were told to watch out for missing or damaged rail. I remember how everyone involved was "sh-t scared" and talking a mile a minute.

​The crew of the coal train were all suspended from service pending investigation. A Transport Canada investigation took place, however this incident took place before event recorders came into use on CP, and Clarence and his trainer, Timmy Hamm were so shaken up and intimidated by the wreck and the following hearing process that the findings were inconclusive.

​However, a CP technician had the foresight to have the locotrol receiving equipment removed from the wrecked mid train "Robot Car", to be sent to Calgary for testing.
​Following the wreck, the equipment was tested and found to be working. Someone in Calgary put the equipment aside "for future testing".

​Two years later, a very similar runaway took place near Fording on a CP coal branch. By that time, rudimentary event recorders had been added to most CP locomotives.
Again, the coal cars derailed before the locomotives and the crew were uninjured.

​Bert, a very experienced locomotive engineer was a the controls, and was able to tell the railway and Transport Canada exactly what he did and when. The railway sent an especially shrewd lawyer to the hearing who was grilling Bert on the witness stand, but Bert was adamant as to the accuracy of his testimony. Finally, Bert threatened to quit the railroad if the lawyer didn't back off. At that time, a technician who had left CP to work for a railway equipment supplier piped up and described the testing that had taken place to the salvaged receiver equipment from the 1977 wreck. It was discovered that although it usually worked, it failed enough times on the test rack to make it unreliable.  Another similar component from an in service locomotive was tested and also failed occasionally. His testimony exonerated both the crew in the Fording incident and the earlier Rogers Pass incident.

​Clarence went on to a successful career on CP as a locomotive engineer and later a company officer. He passed on earlier this week following a courageous battle with cancer.

​"Oh, the great days in the distance, enchanted,  What shall we think of them, forty years on? "



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/12/17 10:53 by eminence_grise.



Date: 04/12/17 11:22
Re: Forty Years On, CP's coal train runaway, 1977
Author: CPR_4000

Didn't that wreck result in a rule that a train must be put into emergency if it passed a given point at over X mph? I don't recall what the specified location was, or the speed.



Date: 04/12/17 13:15
Re: Forty Years On, CP's coal train runaway, 1977
Author: eminence_grise

CPR_4000 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Didn't that wreck result in a rule that a train
> must be put into emergency if it passed a given
> point at over X mph? I don't recall what the
> specified location was, or the speed.

​Following the second coal train runaway, CP retrained locomotive engineers across the system on air brake practices.

​One finding was that the steam era engineer had been given very little formal air brake instruction and when it came time to pass on their expertise, some misconceptions were passed on.  CP chose a team of instructors who really knew their air brakes and had great teaching skills. Air brake knowledge took a quantum leap and "uncontrolled manned movements" were greatly reduced.

​One of the "root causes" for the coal train runaways was found to be that the cars on the trains all had "ABD" schedule air brakes and most other types of trains operated by CP at the time had a mixture of post WW2 vintage AB brakes and the newer ABD brakes with the "quick release" feature. The senior locomotive engineers were trained on locomotives equipped with 24 RL or type 6 air brake stands.

​However, in the late 1990's, a grain train ran away on Field Hill, and it was made evident that air brake knowledge needed further enhancement.  An outcome of that event was "Special Instructions" in CP operating timetables which detailed required air brake practices at specific locations with grades 2% or greater.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/13/17 09:47 by eminence_grise.



Date: 04/13/17 16:00
Re: Forty Years On, CP's coal train runaway, 1977
Author: rschonfelder

Reading this thread prompts me to ask what is the status in North America with the implementation of electronic braking.  The private railways in the Pilbara region of Australia were among the first that I knew of to be using or experimenting with them.

It seems that ECB is first implemented to unit train operations as I believe the unit trains in the Hunter Valley (New South Walles, Australia) coalies are ECB.  I suspect it is the mining operations that both need it but also, given the uniform construction of their freightcars, it is easiest to take up the relatively new technology.

Rick

 



Date: 04/14/17 08:31
Re: Forty Years On, CP's coal train runaway, 1977
Author: bradleymckay

rschonfelder Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Reading this thread prompts me to ask what is the
> status in North America with the implementation of
> electronic braking.  The private railways in the
> Pilbara region of Australia were among the first
> that I knew of to be using or experimenting with
> them.
>
> It seems that ECB is first implemented to unit
> train operations as I believe the unit trains in
> the Hunter Valley (New South Walles, Australia)
> coalies are ECB.  I suspect it is the mining
> operations that both need it but also, given the
> uniform construction of their freightcars, it is
> easiest to take up the relatively new technology.
>
> Rick

The majority of North American railroads, if not all, insist that using DPU's makes the need for ECB braking unnecessary. 


Allen



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