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 a Via Rail passenger train. It was the most lethal Canadian rail disaster since the Dugald accident of 1947. 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 accidentEdit

Template:Unreferenced section The accident took place on a stretch of Canadian National Railway's transcontinental main line, near the town of Hinton, Alberta, west of Edmonton. 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 km) of trackage from Hargwen siding west to Dalehurst siding. 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:

  1. FP7A Diesel locomotive number 6566
  2. F9B Diesel locomotive number 6633
  3. Baggage car
  4. Coach
  5. Dome car number 513
  6. Sleeping car
  7. Sleeping car
  8. FP9A Diesel locomotive number 6300 (inoperative)
  9. Steam generator car
  10. Baggage car
  11. Coach
  12. Lounge car
  13. Sleeping car
  14. Steam generator car

The unusual make up of the train was the result of two separate trains being joined together in Jasper. The first seven units had originated in Vancouver, and the next six units had originated in Prince Rupert. The last unit, the steam generator car, was added in Jasper on its way to Edmonton for maintenance. One hundred fifteen people were on the train; 94 passengers, 14 stewards and seven crew.Template:Citation needed

Canadian National Railway's westbound train No. 413 consisted of three locomotives, EMD GP38-2W number 5586,and two EMD SD40 numbers 5062 and 5104, followed by a high-speed spreader, 35 cylindrical hoppers loaded with grain, seven bulkhead flat cars loaded with large pipes, 45 hoppers loaded with sulphur, 20 loaded tank cars, six more grain cars, and a caboose; a total of 118 units. It was 6,124 feet (1,866 m) long and weighed 12,804 tons.Template:Citation needed In the front locomotive were engineer John Edward (Jack) Hudson, aged 48, and brakeman Mark Edwards, aged 25. In the caboose was conductor Wayne "Smitty" Smith, aged 33.[1]

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 remote dispatcher at Edmonton had set the switch so that the train was routed onto the north track. At the same time, the Super Continental stopped at Hinton, and left five minutes late.[2]

At 8:29 am, the dispatcher set the switch at Dalehurst, where the section of double track ended, to allow the Super Continental to take the south track. This switch setting would have caused the freight train to see signals indicating a stop. A two-light signal 13,600 feet (4.15 km) east of Dalehurst showed yellow over red (meaning prepare to stop at the next signal). As the train approached this signal, it was already going full throttle at 59 miles per hour (96 km/h), faster than the 50 mile per hour limit on this stretch of track. It did not slow down after passing the signal.Template:Citation needed

Further west, there was a three-light signal, 490 feet (150 m) east of the switch at Dalehurst that showed three solid red lamps, indicating a stop. The freight still did not slow down, instead jumping the switch and entering the section of single track 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. Seconds after the freight jumped the switch, at 8:40 am, the two trains collided.[2]


Template:Unreferenced section After the crash, 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 contents of a grain car were propelled on top of the car, helping to smother the fire somewhat. Had the sulphur cars, for instance, been at the front of the train, the death toll might have been higher.

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 broken window in the dome 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 some 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 damaged.

Cause Edit

Template:Unreferenced section 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. However, enough of their remains were found that testing was able to rule out drugs or alcohol as the cause.

A Commission of Inquiry investigated the crash. Mr. 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.

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 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), 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, Hudson radioed back to 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. As the conductor is in charge of the train, had Smith felt that the train was out of control or there were serious problems, he should have pulled the brake cord 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, despite the fact that immediately after the crash Smith was able to contact the dispatcher by radio. Even if Smith's testimony was true, he apparently did not consider the problem sufficiently serious to stop the train, a second misjudgment.


The story of the disaster was featured on the third season of Canadian National Geographic Channel show Mayday (known as Air Emergency in the US, Mayday in Ireland and Air Crash Investigation in the UK and the rest of world). The episode is entitled "Head-On Collision".

External Links Edit

References Edit

  1. "Head-On Collision" (Also "Train Collision" and "Impact on the Rails." Mayday (Crash Scene Investigation)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Template:Cite web

Template:1986 railway accidents