Train derailment near Edmonton may have been deliberate: police
Source: Edmonton Journal
Published: July 10th 2008

EDMONTON - Two CN engines and a dozen train cars derailed Thursday just east of Edmonton after someone parked an 11,000-kilogram machine on the tracks. "This one is just absolutely unbelievable," said union leader Dan Shewchuk, who represents the locomotive engineers.

"I consider this to be like attempted murder. This is getting ridiculous.

"A lot of things go through your head when you come round the corner at that speed and plow into a piece of equipment. You can't do anything about it. (You're) just totally, totally helpless."

The incident happened shortly after midnight near Highway 16 and the Cloverbar overpass, just west of Highway 21.

The 85-car westbound train, travelling at about 60 kilometres an hour rounded a curve and hit the machinery, pushing it off the tracks. The train crossed the overpass and derailed.

"We take this incident very seriously," CN spokesman Kevin Franchuk said.

The train was made up of flatbed cars carrying consumer goods.

No one was injured but the highway was closed until 6:30 p.m. Thursday as crews lifted the cars and replaced about 200 metres of track.

The train "could easily have come off and come right down on the highway," Strathcona County RCMP Const. Wally Henry said. "We are very fortunate that this wasn't a passenger train or tanker train hauling hazardous materials."

The next passenger train, one with about 15 cars and 600 people, was due to pass by that spot shortly before 8 a.m.

Passengers were delayed in Saskatoon instead.

The piece of highway machinery, a dirt packer similar to a steamroller, had been parked beside the fence line along Highway 21, in a clearing where crews had been working on twinning the road.

Its dimpled tracks could still be seen Thursday morning. Someone crushed the grass while turning it around, then drove through the construction site, across a field and onto the tracks.

"It's a criminal investigation at this point," Henry said. Police dogs were on scene early in the day. Officers examined the area by helicopter and called in forensic experts to search for clues in the machine.

The locomotive engineer and conductor were with stress management teams Thursday to help them recover from the shock, said Shewchuk, who was an engineer for 26 years.

"I'm really concerned about this construction company that would allow equipment to sit there and be easily moved."

Construction sites in the area have had problems with vandalism and occasionally with people joyriding equipment when they can get them started. "But nothing like this," Henry said.

One problem is that most machines from the same manufacturer use the same key, and in this case the packer was left on its own by the side of the road.

Customers want master keys to work on multiple machines for efficiency, but Caterpillar also offers vandalism protection programs, said Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan.

Some companies install master disconnection switches so machines won't start even with the ignition key.

Jason Gardiner, heath and safety manager for Sureway, which is doing work along the highway near where the incident occurred, said the company hires full-time security for high-risk sites and install flood lighting. His company did not own the machinery involved in the incident.

"There's not a lot of criminal activity, mostly youth vandalism," Gardiner said. "The most important thing has to be public awareness. (The machines) are very powerful. You can get hurt pretty quick."