Fatal Via Rail crash captured on video

CBC News has obtained exclusive video of the final seconds of last year's Via Rail train No. 92 crash in Burlington, Ont., and the aftermath where rescue workers walk forlornly around the wreckage, knowing there is nothing they can do for the three dead locomotive engineers.

Footage shows rescue efforts after train flew off rails near Burlington, Ont.

CBC News has obtained exclusive video of the final seconds of last year’s VIA Rail train No. 92 crash in Burlington, Ont. 2:58

CBC News has obtained exclusive video of the final seconds of last year's Via Rail train No. 92 crash in Burlington, Ont., and the aftermath where rescue workers walk forlornly around the wreckage, knowing there is nothing they can do for the three dead locomotive engineers.

The video, captured by a security camera at a nearby business, shows the train engine already on its side, slamming into a contractor’s outbuilding, and splintering a steel fence before sliding to a stop. After the dust and debris settles, there is an eerie stillness, save for a flicker of silver from what used to be the front window of the train.

In ensuing clips, stunned workers from nearby companies appear in the yard of the business that backs onto the track. Within minutes, rescue workers are seen clambering over the wreckage, looking for signs of life.

After a quick inspection they realize there is no hope, and work begins to cut through fences and clear the way for the retrieval of the bodies of Ken Simmonds, 56, of Toronto, Peter Snarr, 52, of Toronto, and Patrick Robinson, 40, of Cornwall.

Some 4,300 litres of diesel fuel leaked from the locomotive after the crash, the TSB reports. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Unseen in the video is the 4,300 litres of diesel fuel leaking from the locomotive, according to a report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. The fuel spread across the nearby properties on Enfield Road, which runs parallel to the track. CBC News has learned that the properties have still not been cleaned and restored to their pre-accident state.

Meanwhile, the ex-wife of one of the dead engineers, passengers on the train and the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) have responded to today's CBC News report citing a former CN Rail supervisor, who questioned why the high-speed passenger train was directed through a low-speed crossover meant for freight trains.

That former employee, Scott Holmes, was in charge of a 2006 project to install a new commuter track — the very one Via Rail train No. 92 was being switched to. Holmes has told CBC News he had asked that the old crossover be removed but was turned down due to the cost.

CN Rail has rejected the claim it put cost-cutting above safety and in a statement told CBC News that Holmes was fired for cause and has been the subject of ongoing litigation in which CN has accused him of fraud.

Rob Johnston, TSB manager of central region operations for rail, said he took the call a year ago today and deployed 10 investigators to the site within 24 hours.

Within six weeks the TSB issued an advisory suggesting that, "given the serious consequences of a passenger train derailment, Transport Canada might wish to review the operating procedures and situations when higher-speed passenger trains were routed through slower speed crossovers."

But Johnston says that after examining the black box and evaluating the operation of the train, rolling stock and track infrastructure, investigators hope to make further recommendations. The investigation was hampered by the lack of track-facing or inward-looking cameras on the engine cab, and the absence of voice recorders. 

TSB calls for automated slowdowns

It remains unclear why Via Rail train No. 92 hit a crossover between tracks at such a high speed, causing the train to fly off the tracks. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

Johnston says there are thousands of those crossovers across the country, and instead of focusing on them, the public should look at the bigger picture.

"How did such an experienced crew put themselves in such a situation?" asked Johnston. "They should have been going 15 mph …. The whole system is predicated on a crew responding to signals indicated in the field.

"So we are calling for automated shutdowns similar to ones that have existed in the United States since the 1950s."

These failsafe physical defences would shut down a train when a crew ignores or misinterprets a signal. The system has been operating in the busy northeast corridor of the U.S. for freight and passenger traffic since 1953.

"That system would have made a great difference and prevented this accident from happening," said Johnston. "At the moment there is no physical failsafe system for trains that operate in Canada."

The TSB makes recommendations to Transport Canada, and has been calling for a failsafe system to become law for more than a decade. On Monday, the government confirmed that Via Rail is installing locomotive voice recorders in all of its' trains. Installation of these devices in all trains is another longstanding TSB request.

Victim's ex-wife speaks out

Gail Robinson, the ex-wife of Patrick Robinson, also wants answers for herself and Patrick’s two children, 14-year-old Amanda and 11-year-old Logan.

"We divorced years ago but we finally became at ease and we were happily co-parenting," said Gail. "He was a great father. The kids miss him and I miss him."

At the time of the incident, Robinson was an experienced locomotive engineer for Ottawa Central Railway and CN, and had started learning the routes of Via.

"It was his dream job driving Via trains," Gail told CBC News from her Cornwall home. She resents the suggestion, surmised by many, that the rookie Via engineer was the cause of the crash.

"He knew what he was doing," she said. "He was just learning the routes, learning the different stops. He was training at a job, but very specific and to-the-book.

"He never would have done anything to put his job in jeopardy, or being there for his family."

A class-action lawsuit against Via and CN Rail has been certified for 55 of the 72 passengers who were aboard the train. While they search for answers and compensation for the tragedy, at least one participant in the lawsuit would like to see something concrete done.

Rosanne Martin, who had just spent the weekend visiting family in St. Catharines, Ont., was in the second row of the second of five passenger cars at 3:27 p.m., when the accident occurred.

"I would feel happy if they got rid of that switch," said Martin. "That would make me happier to know if they had done something concrete."

With files from Brigitte Noël, Jeremy McDonald