Ice, unclear rules cited in fatal accident of rail worker pinned by runaway cars

·3 min read

Rules open to interpretation and ice interfering with brakes contributed to a fatal accident at the Edmundston CN rail yard that left a an employee pinned between two rail cars.

Pierre-Luc "Sune" Levesque, 33, died at the site when he was pinned between two runaway cars and a locomotive.

In a report released Tuesday on the accident Dec 4, 2018, the Transportation Safety Board said employee safety could be compromised if rules, instructions and directives aren't properly interpreted or applied.

"A cut of two cars ran uncontrolled westward on the west lead track at [the yard,]" the report said in its description of the accident. "The leading car struck a trailing locomotive travelling in the opposite direction."

The investigation was not done to determine fault or if CN held any liability for Levesque's death.

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The board found ice had reduced the effectiveness of the brakes after the cars were moved in the yard.

"Consequently, the total retarding force generated by the brakes of the two cars became insufficient to prevent the cut from rolling uncontrolled," said the report.

CN Rail said Tuesday that it has updated rules so brakes are conditioned before they are used to secure cars.

Much of the investigators' report deals with whether the train cars should have been considered "attended" or "unattended."

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

The report says CN considered the cars "attended," meaning only emergency brakes had to be applied.

Had they been considered "unattended," CN would've had to apply hand brakes to both cars and to test the brakes.

"The investigation found that … railway company instructions and employee training do not clearly define the factors and risks that employees must consider to determine whether they are in close enough proximity to take effective action to stop the equipment should it move unintentionally," said the report.

Dennis Church, a senior regional investigator, said the Canadian rail operating rules leave room for interpretation about whether a car should be considered "attended" or "unattended."

"So there's leeway in there for an employee to make an interpretation, and if a rule has room for interpretation, there's kind of room for failure there. So we're saying that there needs to be a more restrictive rule in place."

CN's response

In a statement to CBC News, CN Rail called the incident a "terrible tragedy" and "wishes to extend its sincere condolences to Pierre Luc's family, colleagues, friends, and community."

The company said it changed rules so "all cars, whether part of a switching movement or being left unattended, must be secured."

Luc Régis, a senior investigation specialist, said "uncontrolled" car movements at rail yards has been increasing and the safety board has added it to its watchlist as an issue that needs to be addressed.

"There's been a significant increase of uncontrolled movements in the rail industry in the last 10 years or so," said Régis.

"This actually is the only number of accidents that is increasing, that has been increasing for the last 10 years. So it became a major focus for the TSB, and that's why we put it on the watch list."