Don’t ask, don’t know

In installment 9 of The Turcot Train Tragedy, the investigation asks whether alcohol played a role in the deaths of three teenagers killed by a VIA Rail train on Oct. 31, 2010 in the Turcot area of Montreal?

by Jack Locke

“Did the SPVM conduct drug and alcohol tests on the drivers of the VIA Rail train involved in the deaths of three young men on Oct. 31?” I asked Montreal Police Service media officer Raphael Bergeron by email.

It was not a pleasant question for me to ask. Maybe, not a question Bergeron was permitted to answer?

First, if the police did not fully determine the locomotive engineer’s status in relation to these substances, it would appear to me to be an improper investigation. Similarly, by not testing the engineer, the engineer may not gain the benefit from having proof of his state at the time of the incident.

Also, as Bergeron had previously said the police had closed their investigation and no charges would be laid, it appears that no incriminating evidence had been found.

The answer to my question came from Bergeron’s superior, Sergeant Ian Lafrenière—a somewhat inconclusive answer.

“If we had reason to believe, we would have done a test,” said Sgt. Lafrenière. He neither confirmed nor denied whether the police had conducted such tests. He did confirm that the police concluded the tragic event was an accident and therefore is a matter for the coroner.

In investigating why Dylan Ford, Mitchell Bracken-Guenet, and Ricardo Conesa were unable to avoid the three-hour-late, VIA Rail passenger train travelling at 113 kph, many possibilities must be explored in order to eliminate those details that played no part in the mishap.

“The law related to drunk driving for a car is the same that applies to other modes of transportation,” says Transport Canada’s Mélanie Quesnel in an email.

“Every one commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or vessel or operates or assists in the operation of an aircraft or of railway equipment or has the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment, whether it is in motion or not, while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment is impaired by alcohol or a drug,” states Canada’s Criminal Code.

Railway companies—such as Canadian National Railway(CN)—have identified workplace alcohol and drug problems as an area of serious concern.

“Possession, distribution or sale of beverage alcohol, and the use of any form of alcohol, is prohibited while on duty (including during breaks on or off CN property), on company business, or on company premises, including vehicles and equipment…In any situation where employees are to be tested with reasonable cause including after an accident or incident, they are prohibited from using alcohol within eight hours of the accident or incident, or until tested or advised that a test will not be necessary,” CN’s policy states.

This policy alludes to possible testing after an accident, but in no way makes testing mandatory following an accident. Transport Canada likewise does not insist on mandatory testing following an accident.

“Transport Canada does not require mandatory drug or alcohol testing after a rail accident,” writes Quesnel.

It’s a heavy responsibility to drive a train, whether it’s a VIA Rail train carrying passengers or a CN train consisting of 100 cars of toxic chemicals. The locomotive alone weighs about 118,000 kilograms(260,000 pounds.) It’s why there should be no tolerance for drug or alcohol use while working a train.

In CN’s 2009 Safety Management System guide they note alcohol and drug use is declining. But it is far from elimination.

“In 2008 in Canada, continued emphasis on the Alcohol and Drug Policy resulted in a 4% decrease in positive alcohol and drug tests in post accident/incident situations,” admits CN, now a privately-owned railway company.

Reaction time for locomotive engineers can mean the difference between a close call and a major catastrophe.

When VIA Rail’s engineer Don Blain in 1999 reacted to an improperly set rail switch, he had just 5 seconds to act. He warned an oncoming train to stop, shut his locomotive engine, and applied emergency brakes before perishing in the Thamesville, Ontario mishap (see Dec. 21 Lockeblog post, Eight seconds to Forever.)

An impaired engineer would not have had the ability to act as swiftly, as professionally, as Blain.

I emphasize, I am NOT suggesting drugs or alcohol were a factor in the Turcot train tragedy of Oct. 31 that took the lives of 3 Montreal-area teens. But until I have more information, this question must be asked. Unfortunately, asking does not guarantee an answer.

“As operating any motor vehicle while impaired falls under the Criminal Code of Canada, please contact local police for further information,” suggests Transport Canada’s Quesnel.

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3 Responses to “Don’t ask, don’t know”

  1. Possible explanation to death of 3 Montreal teens | Lockeblog Says:

    […] police did not find evidence of alcohol nor drugs, but another explanation may be found: fatigue. In a news story issued today, CBC reporter Dave […]

  2. 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 9.

  3. Investigation: Initial summary findings « Lockeblog Says:

    […] 4. The Montreal Police Service will not confirm whether or not the engineer of the train was tested for drugs or alcohol; […]

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