Hinton train collision

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Hinton train collision
DateFebruary 8, 1986; 33 years ago (1986-02-08)
Time8:40 am
LocationDalehurst, Alberta
OperatorCanadian National Railway
Via Rail
Incident typeCollision
CauseLocomotive engineer fatigue[1]
Conductor error

Coordinates: 53°29′47″N 117°22′11″W / 53.49645°N 117.3697°W / 53.49645; -117.3697

The Hinton train collision was a railway accident that occurred on February 8, 1986. Twenty-three people were killed in a collision between a Canadian National Railway freight train and the Via Rail passenger train called the Super Continental. It was the deadliest rail disaster in Canada at this time, since the Dugald accident of 1947 which had thirty-one fatalities, and would not be surpassed until the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013 which resulted in forty-seven fatalities. It was surmised that the accident was a result of the crew of the freight train becoming incapacitated, and the resulting investigations revealed serious flaws in CN's employee practices.

Vicinity of the accident[edit]

The accident took place on a stretch of Canadian National Railway's transcontinental main line west of Edmonton, near the town of Hinton, Alberta. Nearby towns are Jasper to the west and Edson to the east. Passenger service on the line was provided by Via Rail Canada. Slightly over half of the 100-mile (160 km) stretch of track between Jasper and Edson was double-tracked, including 11.2 miles (18.0 km) of trackage from Hargwen control point west to Dalehurst control point. Traffic on this line was controlled with Centralized Traffic Control (CTC).


On the morning of February 8, 1986, Via Rail's No. 4 train, the combined Super Continental and Skeena, was travelling from Jasper east to Edmonton on its transcontinental journey. It consisted of 14 units in the following order[2]:

  1. FP7 Diesel locomotive number 6566
  2. F9B Diesel locomotive number 6633
  3. Baggage-Dormitory 617
  4. Coach-Snack Bar 3229
  5. Skyline Dome car number 513
  6. 4-8-4 Sleeping car Ennishore
  7. 4-8-4 Sleeping car Elcott
  8. FP9 Diesel locomotive number 6300 (inoperative)
  9. Steam generator car 15445
  10. Baggage car 9653
  11. Daynighter Coach 5703
  12. Cafe-Lounge 757
  13. 4-8-4 Sleeping car Estcourt
  14. Steam generator car 15404

The unusual consist of the train was the result of 2 separate trains being coupled together in Jasper. The first 2 locomotives and 5 cars had originated in Vancouver, and the second section consisting of 1 locomotive and 5 cars had originated in Prince Rupert. The last car, a steam generator, was added in Jasper on its way to Edmonton for maintenance. 115 people were on board the train; 94 passengers, 14 stewards and 7 crew.[3] The lead locomotive was occupied by engineers Mike Peleshaty, age 57, and Emil Miller, age 53.

Canadian National Railway's westbound train No. 413 consisted of 3 locomotives, EMD GP38-2W number 5586, and 2 EMD SD40 numbers 5104 and 5062, followed by a high-speed spreader, 35 cylindrical hoppers loaded with grain, 7 bulkhead flat cars loaded with large pipes, 45 hoppers loaded with sulphur, 20 loaded tank cars, 6 more grain cars, and a caboose; a total consist of 3 locomotives and 115 cars. It was 6,124 feet (1,867 m) long and weighed 12,804 short tons (11,432 long tons; 11,616 t).[3] On the lead locomotive were engineer John Edward (Jack) Hudson, aged 48, and brakeman Mark Edwards, aged 25. On the caboose, conductor Wayne "Smitty" Smith, aged 33.[4]

The freight train left Edson at 6:40 am, and took the siding at Medicine Lodge to allow two eastbound trains to pass. It departed Medicine Lodge at 8:02 am and reached Hargwen at 8:20 am, where a section of double track started. The train dispatcher at Edmonton had lined the dual-control switch (DCS) so that the freight train was lined up onto the north track. At the same time, the Super Continental stopped at Hinton, and left five minutes late.[1]

At 8:29 am, the dispatcher lined the dual-control switch at Dalehurst, where the section of double track beginning from Hargwen ended, to allow the Super Continental to take the south track. This turnout setting would have caused the absolute signal at the Dalehurst control point to display a stop indication for the freight train.

The crew of the freight train would have received a warning of the upcoming stop signal indication when they passed a double-aspect approach signal 13,600 feet (4.1 km) east of Dalehurst. The signal in question showed an approach indication, yellow over red, meaning that the crew was required to prepare to stop at the next signal while reducing speed to 30 miles per hour (48 km/h). As the freight train approached this signal, the throttle was in the 8th notch with the train speed at 59 miles per hour (95 km/h), 9 miles per hour (14 km/h) faster than the 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) speed limit on this stretch of track. The engineer made no attempt to slow down after passing the approach signal.[5]

Further west at the Dalehurst control point, there was an absolute three-aspect signal, 490 feet (150 m) east of the switch at the end of double-track. That signal showed three solid red lights, indicating stop. The freight train still did not slow down, instead it ran through the switch and entered the section of single track now occupied by the Super Continental. Had the Super Continental been even a minute early, it would have been past the switch at this point, but it was not. Approximately 18 seconds after the lead locomotive of the freight train ran through the switch, at 8:40 am, the two trains collided.[1]


After the derailment, diesel fuel spilled from the locomotives and ignited, and the locomotives, the baggage car, and the day coach were engulfed in flames. The two crew members in each of the locomotives were killed.

Eighteen of the 36 occupants of the day coach were killed.

The observation dome car behind the day coach suffered serious damage, and was also hit by a freight car, which was thrown into the air by the force of the collision. One of its occupants was killed. The others were able to escape either through a window in the dome that had been broken by passengers, or through the hole left by the freight car. The two sleepers following the dome car derailed and were thrown on their sides. There were no deaths in these cars, but there were several injuries. The three passenger cars at the rear of the train did not derail, but there were many injuries.

As the accident unfolded, the cars on the freight train piled up on each other, resulting in a large pile of rolling stock. The three freight locomotives and the first 76 cars of the train were either destroyed or severely damaged.

After the rear of the freight train came to a halt, Smith, the sole surviving member of the freight train's crew, attempted to contact the front of the train to no avail; he then contacted the emergency services after witnessing the growing fire.


There was no evidence of braking action from either train prior to the collision. An analysis suggested that both trains would have been visible to one another for the final 19 seconds leading up to the collision. Though no conclusive reason would be found for the failure of the passenger train to react to the incursion, there was no evidence that the crew otherwise made any errors leading up to the accident. The focus shifted to the freight train and its failure to stop at the north track before it rejoined the main line. Why the freight train failed to stop was unclear. A wrong-side signal problem was eliminated, leaving human error as the only possible cause. However, since the head-end crew of the freight train did not survive, it was not clear why they had erred. Enough of their remains were found that testing was able to rule out drugs or alcohol as the cause, though it was revealed that the engineer, Jack Hudson, was an alcoholic and heavy smoker suffering from pancreatitis and type 2 diabetes, thus placing him at risk for a heart attack or stroke.[6]

A Commission of Inquiry investigated the crash. Justice René P. Foisy, Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta, held 56 days of public hearings and received evidence from 150 parties. The inquiry report was published on January 22, 1987. Instead of condemning any one individual, it instead condemned what Foisy described as a "railroader culture" that prized loyalty and productivity at the expense of safety. As an example of this disregard of safety, it was noted that the crew of that train had boarded the locomotive at Edson "on the fly". While the locomotive was moving slowly through the yard, the new crew would jump on and the previous crew would jump off. While this method of changing crews saved time and fuel, it was a flagrant violation of safety regulations requiring a stationary brake test after a crew change. Management claimed to be unaware of this practice, even though it was quite common. In regards to engineer Hudson, the Foisy Commission concluded it was a possibility that engineer Hudson had either fallen asleep at the controls or had suffered a heart attack or stroke in light of his extremely poor health, leading to the collision. The commission further criticized CN's ineffective monitoring of Hudson's health condition:

The serious nature of Hudson's medical condition...raises a strong possibility that it was a factor contributing to the collision of February 8...The Commission therefore concludes that engineer Hudson's medical condition possibly contributed to his failure to control Train 413. The Commission also concludes that there are serious deficiencies in the manner in which CN monitored and reacted to that condition. The Commission finds that both the policies and procedures that permitted a man in Hudson's medical state to be responsible for the operation of a freight train on the CN main line to be unacceptable.[6]

Another frequently ignored safety regulation mentioned in the report was the "deadman's pedal", which a locomotive engineer had to keep depressed for the train to remain underway. Were he to fall asleep or pass out, his foot would slip from the pedal, triggering an alarm and engaging the train's brakes automatically a few seconds later. However, many engineers found this tiresome and bypassed the pedal by placing a heavy weight (often a worn out brake shoe) on it. It was uncertain whether the pedal had been bypassed in this case because the lead locomotive of the train had been destroyed. A more advanced safety device was available, the reset safety control (RSC), which required crew members to take an action such as pushing a button at regular intervals, or else automatic braking would occur, but neither lead locomotive was equipped with this safety feature. While the second locomotive in the freight train was equipped with RSC, it was not assigned as the lead locomotive because it lacked a "comfort cab". Management and union practice was to place more comfortable locomotives at the front of trains, even at the expense of safety.

The report also noted that although the front-end and rear-end crews should have been in regular communication, that did not appear to be the case in this accident. As the freight train reached Hargwen, Engineer Hudson radioed back to Conductor Smith that the signals were green, a communication that was heard by a following freight. As it ran towards Dalehurst there was no evidence of further communication. The conductor is in charge of the train, so if Smith felt that the train was out of control or there were serious problems, he should have activated the emergency brake in the caboose to stop the train. However, Smith, who appeared to be nervous while testifying, said that he did not feel that the freight was ever out of control, misjudging its speed. He also testified that he attempted to radio Hudson on two radios and several channels, but neither seemed to be working, even though immediately after the crash Smith was able to contact the dispatcher by radio. Despite Smith's testimony, he apparently decided not to stop the train.


The disaster was featured in "Head-on Collision", a Season 3 (2005) Crash Scene Investigation episode of the Canadian TV series Mayday[7] For broadcasters that do not use the series name Mayday, this is one of three Season 3 episodes labeled as Crash Scene Investigation spin-offs, examining marine or rail disasters.

Similar accidents[edit]

  • 1987 Maryland train collision, in which a freight also disregarded signals and collided head-on with an Amtrak passenger train at full speed; the crew of that freight was also found to have limited mental capacity due to marijuana use and had disabled safety features as well.
  • 2008 Chatsworth train collision, in which a Metrolink commuter train disregarded signals and collided head on with a Union Pacific freight train; the engineer of the commuter train was concluded to have been distracted by text messages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Canada recalls deadly passenger-freight crash 20 years later". Trains Magazine. 8 February 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2011.
  2. ^ http://www.canadianrailwayobservations.com/2011/Mar%2011/Mar%2011%20Web/mar11via.htm
  3. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-11-12. Retrieved 2013-11-11.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Head-On Collision" (Also "Train Collision" and "Impact on the Rails." Mayday (Crash Scene Investigation)
  5. ^ http://arbitrations.netfirms.com/croa/20/CR1677.html
  6. ^ a b Foisy Commission of Inquiry - Report
  7. ^ "Head-on Collision". Mayday. Season 3. Episode 12. 2005. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.

External links[edit]