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Bathurst Runaway Train

CN Engineer Cleared Of Blame

by Ray Burke

BATHURST (Special) -- A Bathurst railway engineer who nearly lost his life in a derailment earlier this year has been cleared of blame in the incident and Wesley MacDonald says he can now retire peacefully after more than 42 years of service with Canadian National Railways.

An arbitration board that met last week in Montreal has ruled that the railway was not justified in suspending MacDonald for six months without pay following a spectacular train crash 35 kilometres south of here in early March of this year.

It has been an agonizing wait of just over nine months for MacDonald and his wife, and a particularly difficult time for a man who was with CN for 42 years and six months without a blemish on his record.

Following the announcement Monday, he said he is much happier. ``I have a clean record now, I feel a lot better. I get my six months of back pay and my pension will be adjusted. Most important, there is no blame on me, no blame whatsoever,'' he said.

MacDonald was in Montreal last week for the hearing by the arbitration board. In April, his union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, had announced that his suspension would be appealed.

MacDonald said he got the good news about the outcome in a telephone call from the union president, Gilles Hollie of Quebec City.

Despite the happy ending, MacDonald can not forget what he calls the worst moment in his life. ``I'll never get over it, something like this you take to your grave. What with 70 miles an hour and all, I was lucky to get out of that one,'' he said.

At 7:30 a.m., March 9, MacDonald was at the Brunswick Mining Mine site and coupled his locomotive to an ore train, as he had done dozens of times before, preparing for the daily run to the Port of Dalhousie.

He shunted back and forth, linking 28 hopper cars loaded with 2,00 tons of lead-zinc concentrate.

But before he could add the caboose and the three other crewmen who were waiting in it, the train started moving slowly downgrade when the brakes wouldn't hold.

The train was traveling at about 10 miles per hour and MacDonald could have jumped off.

Instead, he stayed in the locomotive cab blowing the air horn to alert school buses and other vehicles at level crossings along the way.

``she's doing 70, 70 miles an hour,'' was the last message from MacDonald on his radio as he sped into a sharp turn. The train derailed and there was more than $1 million damage, but MacDonald's only injury was a bump on the head.

He credits the snow banks on the turn with saving his life.

Some maintenance men working on the track bed near the derailment saw the train speed by and they ran to the wreck, expecting MacDonald to be dead.

MacDonald walked out of the wreckage in one piece but saw his reputation shattered when CN blamed him for the accident and suspended him. At the time MacDonald said he was expecting only some demerit on his record.

He bitterly denounced the railway for his suspension and said he felt he was being made a scapegoat because of a series of earlier derailments across the country.

Bathurst Mayor Douglas Williamson and other community leaders said they felt MacDonald should have received an award for bravery and the Governor-General's office in Ottawa was asked to consider him for an award.

MacDonald said Monday he has heard nothing from Ottawa. ``Perhaps they're waiting for this decision to come and now I may get consideration.''

MacDonald, 60, retired Nov. 1 of this year.