The Canadian Pacific Rail train bursting and crashing near Field, B.C., killing three crew members, accelerated without control after the brakes were released without warning, said Transportation Safety Board investigators Tuesday.
Federal agency officials said the 112-car three-wheel drive had stopped at Partridge Station just before midnight on Monday to switch their crew members approaching their peak operating hours, said James Carmichael, senior rail investigator with TSB.
CP Train 301, on the way from Red Deer through Calgary and on to Vancouver, had been stopped at the small station for approx. Two hours, with the new crew not yet ready for departure, as the train's emergency brakes are unexpectedly released, and it started rolling west through the challenging stretch of mountain pass towards Field.
"The train had stopped in grade with the air brakes in case of emergency for about two hours when the train began to move itself. There were no handbrakes on the train," Carmichael told reporters in Calgary.
"The train… Accelerated to a speed well that exceeds the maximum track speed of 32 km / h, for the tight curves and steep mountain quality, and the train spread."
Conductor Dylan Paradis, driver Andrew Dockrell and trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, all from Calgary, died in the crash that took place on Mile 130.6, some three kilometers past Patridge Station where it was stopped.
Railway sources told Postmedia on Monday that the train had traveled about twice the set speed as it left the track as it rounded a curve just before it entered the lower spiral tunnel.
Carmichael said investigators had not been able to determine how fast the train left when it left the train, as the driver in its leading engine, which suffered significant damage as it landed in a brook, had not yet been restored.
All but 13 of the grain-bearing cars and the train's rear engine left the tracks.
Officials remain unclear as to what caused the train to lose control or the brakes to release, which will be an important part of the investigation.
"Investigators and others work hard under challenging circumstances to fully understand what went so badly wrong," Carmichael said.
"It was not something the crew did. The train began to move alone. We must try to determine why the brakes were not in place."
Dave Fulton, general chairman of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, would not speculate on Tuesday what could have caused the brakes to fail and it is "the role of the TSB" to find out "what actually happened."
Fulton said it usually takes "between 30 to 40 minutes" on average to move a train running 24 km / h from the Partridge station to Field.
Two TSB investigators remain at the crash site and receive support from investigators in the Calgary office, TSB engineering lab, and the agency's human factors division.
Carmichael said investigators will look to get all the electronic data from the three locomotives, conduct interviews, investigate possible impacts of weather conditions, and review railway policies.
"As with all our studies, we will examine all the information before we make any conclusions. As such, it is too early to say what the causes and contributing factors in this accident can be," he said.
Carmichael could not say how long the investigation is expected to take.
CP did not immediately comment on TSB's provisional results on Tuesday, but in a statement Monday, President and CEO Keith Creel said the company would not wonder what went wrong.
"In the coming hours, we will remain focused on employee safety and security for our first respondents, as well as working closely with the deceased and all our employees' families. This is a tragedy that will have a long-lasting impact on our family of railways," he said .
"The incident is under investigation and we will not speculate at this point for a reason – we owe it to those involved to get it right."
– With files from Ryan Rumbolt
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