Eight seconds to forever

‘Eight seconds to forever’ is installment 6 in The Turcot Train Tragedy–the investigation into the deaths of Dylan Ford, Mitchell Bracken-Guenet, and Ricardo Conesa, killed by a VIA Rail passenger train on the morning of October 31 in Montreal.

by Jack Locke

Time. It was in short supply on the early morning of Oct. 31, 2010.

The VIA Rail train that surprised a group of five Montreal-area teens had been delayed in leaving its place of departure by approximately three hours. It was scheduled to depart Toronto at 6:35 P.M., Oct. 30 and arrive in Montreal at 12:16 A.M. on Oct. 31.

Entering its final leg towards Montreal’s Central Station at 3 A.M., the train approached the Turcot tunnel at a reported speed of 113 kilometres per hour(70 miles per hour in railway measurement.) The train’s locomotive event recorder would have captured exact details of its speed.

At a minimum, federal rules require the event recorder to monitor and record the time, distance, speed, brake pipe pressure, throttle position, emergency brake application, independent brake cylinder pressure, and application of the horn signal. These indicators monitor the train’s operations and help investigators analyze accidents.

If the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s initial preliminary report is accurate, the train was travelling at 70 MPH when it struck the three young men. If the engineer had seen the group of five teens 800 feet directly ahead of the train(the distance a headlight is required to illuminate a person ahead of the train)the engineer would have had, at most, eight seconds to secure a safe outcome. Only two of the teens were lucky enough to take evasive action.

“…headlight(s) on locomotives other than in designated service must be aligned to centreline in the horizontal plane and depressed in the vertical plane to strike the rail at 244 metres (800 feet) ahead of the locomotive in the direction of travel,” says Transport Canada’s railway locomotive inspection and safety rule.

Eight seconds—or less—was the amount of time the engineer would have had to alert the teens and for them to react.

It’s not very much time, especially if there is any delay in the reaction of the engineer.

A 1999 Transportation Safety Board investigation into a train accident at Thamesville, Ontario documented the swift reactions of a VIA Rail engineer who averted a worse tragedy.

Travelling at 130 kilometres per hour, the engineer within 5 seconds of recognizing an open track switch applied the train’s emergency brakes, shut down the engine to prevent a possible fire, and sent a distress call to an oncoming train. But the engineer did not have enough time for his own safety.

Due to the incorrectly-set switch, the train crashed into 3 parked tanker cars containing ammonium nitrate. Engineer Don Blain and engineer-in-training Kevin Lihou were both killed.

At these high speeds there is little time for reaction. Transport Canada’s rules say eight seconds should have been enough time to alert the five people on the track at the Turcot tunnel.

It wasn’t.


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2 Responses to “Eight seconds to forever”

  1. publicpoetry Says:

    Reblogged this on Lockeblog and commented:

    I am reposting my series on The Turcot Train Tragedy as it approaches the second anniversary of that horrible event. Alas, with no government accountability. Installment 6.

  2. Investigation: Initial summary findings « Lockeblog Says:

    […] a man 800 feet ahead of the train. Travelling at 70 mph, this should have given the VIA engineer 8 seconds visual warning prior to […]

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