WorkSafeBC has determined a faulty coupler and an improperly installed piece of safety equipment were responsible for a fatal rail derailment on Vancouver Island in 2017.
On the morning of April 20, 2017, 11 railcars broke loose near Woss, B.C., about 66 kilometres south of Port McNeill, and rolled along a downhill stretch of track, where they slammed into a rail transport vehicle called a speeder.
The Western Forest Products crew had been moving railcars loaded with logs at the Englewood Forest Operation at the time.
The cars derailed, spilling a large number of logs and hitting a nearby excavator. The accident claimed three lives and left two other people with serious injuries.
A report from WorkSafeBC has found that the cars detached because faulty coupler components attaching the 11 cars had failed to engage, allowing them to roll freely.
The investigation found that once the cars had broken free, a key piece of safety equipment known as a “derail device” failed to stop them from rolling away.
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WorkSafeBC said the device was improperly installed, as it was attached to rotten railroad ties, and that it was held down with an insufficient number of spikes.
When the lead railcar hit the derail device, its front wheels jumped the track but the weight of the train bearing downhill forced them back onto the rails, according to the report.
The 11 loose cars travelled about 500 metres down the main line before hitting the speeder, which had four workers aboard, and pushing it into the rail-mounted backhoe, which was occupied by one worker.
The cars, the speeder and the backhoe then travelled another 1,500 metres out of control until they derailed, the report said.
In the course of the investigation, WorkSafeBC found one violation of the Workers Compensation Act, stating that Western Forest Products had failed to “ensure the health and safety of all workers working for (the company).”
In the wake of the accident, Western Forest Products ceased all rail operations at the Englewood facility. It is now hauling all logs by truck.
An RCMP investigation into the derailment last year found no criminality in the circumstances leading up to the crash.