Guelph, Ont. Train Derailment : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Toronto Star

Jul 11, 07:06 EDT Investigation starts into Via derailment

GUELPH - Annie Gates was sitting down to dinner with her grown daughter when all hell broke loose shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday.

Via Rail Canada train 683 bound for Sarnia from Toronto crashed into heavy equipment on a railway siding several hundred metres or so from Gates' Rockwood home, derailing the engine and two of four cars loaded with 180 passengers and five crew members.

''I said 'what was that?' and I jumped. It was so sudden,'' said Gates.

The crash was so loud that another daughter living several blocks away ran into her basement, thinking her humidifier was malfunctioning, she added.

Gates said emergency crews quickly arrived.

''They were right on the ball. Then we saw people streaming off the railroad tracks.''

Authorities began assisting passengers to the nearby Rockmosa Community Centre, where they were checked for injuries.

''Everyone was accounted for,'' said Ontario Provincial Police Const. Patti Schneider, adding 10 people suffering minor injuries were taken to hospitals in Guelph, Fergus and Georgetown.

Via spokesperson Malcolm Andrews anticipated the line would reopen for train service shortly after noon today. In the meantime, Via is busing people who typically take the train to destinations on that line, including Toronto, Brampton, Georgetown, Guelph, Kitchener, Stratford and London. Those going beyond London re-embark on trains from that point on.

Gates echoed the sentiments of many Rockwood residents that it was fortunate nobody was killed in the crash. She said the timing was particularly fortunate because the men laying fibre optic cable for Toronto-based Ledcor Communications had only left the work site shortly before the 6:45 p.m. mishap.

''They had just nicely left. They'd been working all day,'' said Gates. ''If any of those guys had been on the track ... it could have been a lot worse, let's put it that way.''

A central question accident investigators, including the federal Transportation Safety Board, want answered is how it was possible a manual switch directed the train to the siding where heavy equipment, including three backhoes and a shuttle wagon, was stored for the evening.

''A criminal act does not appear to be the cause,'' said Schneider.

Monday, work crews began making repairs to the rail line and placing the two coaches back on track as investigators from the TSB, Via Rail and the Goderich-Exeter Railway sifted through the wreckage for clues.

Formerly a CN Rail line, the track is owned by Kitchener-based oderich-Exeter Railway, itself part of the Rail America conglomeration of short-line railways.

''The train entered the siding,'' said Goderich-Exeter Railway clean-up co-ordinator Stu Thomas. ''The switch was apparently lined for the siding instead of the main track and collided with some of the machinery that was in the siding being stored.''

Asked if the switch was in the wrong position because of human error, Thomas said he couldn't comment. ''We don't know,'' said Thomas, stressing the investigations haven't concluded.

Ledcor personnel were installing cable for CN Rail, under CN supervision, Thomas continued. Via, he added, has retrieved the train's ''black box,'' whichrecords information on its operation.

"They're going to analyse that in the next day or so in the presence of the Transportation Safety Board,'' he said Monday morning.

A crane was brought in Monday to rerail the coaches and locomotive. The damaged construction equipment was loaded on to flatcars and trucks.

"Anything to get them out of here,'' said Thomas.

-- Rachel Gibson (, July 11, 2000

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