A RCMP photo included in a WorkSafeBC report shows the scene of a fatal derailment in Woss on April 20, 2017. A faulty coupler released 11 cars down the track, striking a work crew, killing three and seriously injuring two.

Faulty coupling cited as cause of fatal 2017 logging train derailment in Woss

Safety device also failed to divert runaway rail cars that killed three crew members, injuring two

Eleven rail cars loaded with logs rolled unrestrained towards a crew of five workers sitting unsuspectingly in a “speeder” and a backhoe near Woss on April 20, 2017.

The line of log-loaded rail cars, the speeder and the backhoe were then pushed approximately 1.5 kilometres down the line before it all derailed in the Village of Woss that morning.

Three workers, Roland Gaudet, Jacob Galeazzi and Clement Reti were killed and two were seriously injured, a WorkSafeBC report into the incident says. The report was released after a Freedom of Information request by the Victoria Times-Colonist.

The cause of the crash was determined to be faulty coupler components failing to engage on a car attached to a braked rail car that anchored the string of 12 cars. That coupling failed, releasing the 11 cars connected to it. In addition, a safety mechanism called a derail then failed to stop the free-rolling cars.

“The loaded cars rolled onto the line, striking the maintenance crew of five workers in the speeder and rail backhoe,” the report says. “The speeder and rail backhoe were then pushed further down the line by the uncontrolled railcars until the cars, the speeder and the rail backhoe all derailed.”

In the process of derailment, the speeder and rail backhoe were struck by logs falling from the railcars. The operator of the speeder, which is a kind of crew transport car, and one crewman called a sectionman survived with serious injuries. The backhoe operator and two other sectionmen in the speeder received fatal injuries.

The incident happened on Western Forest Products’ Englewood Railway at Woss. This private railway, no longer in operation, was used to transport logs on 90 kilometres of track stretching from Vernon Lake through Woss and past Nimpkish Lake to Beaver Cove on Vancouver Island.

WorkSafeBC’s jurisdiction in the case involves aspects that impact health and safety of workers. Technical Safety BC is another provincial regulatory body that enforces the Railway Safety Act and oversees railways operating exclusively within the province of B.C.

In addition, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada has jurisdiction to investigate rail accidents on federally-regulated railways. The TSB will be issuing its own report into the incident.

The incident occurred in a location on the Englewood line called a reload, approximately two kilometres south of Woss on northern Vancouver Island. The reload is higher in elevation than the village of Woss.

“Consequently, any unrestrained or uncontrolled railcars will roll, with gravity, from the reload in the direction of Woss,” the WorkSafeBC report says.

A system of brakes, winch, spotting line and wheel blocks is used to counteract the grade in the reload which is located on a spur off the main line. The derail is another safety device that is intended to derail any runaway cars before the junction of the spur with the main line.

The WorkSafeBC investigation determined that besides the faulty coupler on the one car, the derail device was affixed to rail ties that sat on packed ground that did not permit proper drainage, resulting in the wood decay.

In addition, the derail had been attached to the ties with fewer spikes than were required. The impact of the first car’s wheels easily dislodged the derail. One of the cars was briefly derailed but the force of the cars rolling behind it pushed it back onto the rails at the junction with the mainline.

The report did not contain any recommendations.

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