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Rail Crash Probes Completed

From The Telegaph-Journal
Saint John, N.B.

BATHURST -- The Canadian Transport Commission and CN Rail have completed their investigations into a freight derailment southeast of here last month.

Both bodies have spent the last month trying to uncover the cause of the March 9, derailment and why the caboose, brakemen and conductor were not on the train.

It will be at least a month before the commission makes its findings public.

Commission investigator H.V. Mann is preparing a summary report of the inquiry, along with possible recommendations, to the Railway Transport Committee.

His report won't be ready for another two weeks and, once completed, will be sent to the committee for approval, said information officer Therese Giroux.

During his investigation, Mann had authority to use the rare powers within Section 226 of the Railway Act, which gives commissioners power to subpoena witnesses, take statements and conduct interviews.

``If we do things right, we won't leave any stone unturned,'' said commission spokesman Peter Schnobb.

CN, which has not decided whether it will make its investigation public, suspects brake failure caused the derailment.

Engineer Wesley MacDonald said the brake system could not handle the weight of the 30 cars loaded with lead-zinc ore concentrates. The rain had composition brake shoes on when it should have had cast iron shoes, MacDonald said.

The train's brake's released while shunting cars at Brunswick Mining and Smelting Inc. Ltd's mine, he said.

MacDonald was the only member of a four-man crew aboard the runaway train when it careened off a curve where the downhill spur line from the Brunswick Mine meets the main CN line.

A 45-year veteran with CN, MacDonald suffered only minor head bruises when two locomotives and 26 cars left the tracks spilling 2,000 tonnes of lead-zinc concentrate into a nearby field.

MacDonald, 60, was blowing the whistle to warn motorists as the train traveled at about 100 kilometres an hour -- several times the maximum speed -- through two level crossings.

Within days of CN's investigation, MacDonald began serving a six-month unpaid suspension. A conductor and two brakemen also received four- to six-month suspensions.

CN has refused to confirm or deny the suspensions, only saying there had been a breech of operating procedures during the derailment and the company is dealing with the matter.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is appealing the suspensions.

MacDonald, who is scheduled to retire this fall, said he thinks CN handed out the suspensions to make an example of the train's crew.

There has been a spate of derailments in the Maritimes in recent months. Two major derailments in Novia Scotia cut the province's only rail link with the rest of Canada twice this year.