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Train likely couldn't stop in time to save snowplow driver, former CN engineer says

A former CN train engineer says it's likely the engineer of the locomotive involved in Tuesday's fatal collision between a CN freight train and a sidewalk snowplow wouldn't be able to stop in time in order to prevent the accident.

'Say you're coming at 50, boy, there's no way you'd stop in time,' says retired CN engineer John Wever

A police car sits at the scene of a fatal crash in downtown London on Tuesday between a CN freight train and a sidewalk snowplow. (Gary Ennett/CBC News)

A former Canadian National Railway engineer says it's likely the operator of the locomotive involved in Tuesday's fatal collision between a CN freight train and a sidewalk snowplow wouldn't be able to stop in time in order to prevent a fatal accident. 

Police said the operator of the sidewalk snowplow was killed as he was headed northbound on Colborne Street Tuesday morning, when his vehicle was struck by an eastbound CN freight train at the level crossing near York Street.

'I've had some close calls there'

John Wever, a retired CN rail employee, say's he's lucky he's never killed anyone throughout his career, which spanned up to three decades. (Colin Butler/CBC)
Say you're coming at 50, boy, there's no way you'd stop in time.- John Wever

John Wever, a retired CN engineer who operated trains through London and across Ontario for 18 years, said the stretch of track is notorious among train engineers for potential accidents. 

"I've had some close calls there, virtually everyone has," he said. "I know from running eastward from there, you come around the bend, you get a good clear view of everything and I'm always leary." 

Indeed, the Google Streetview image of the area shows a ghost bike, a type of makeshift memorial honour a cyclist killed in an accident, affixed to a tree at the southwest corner of the level crossing. 

This undated photo of the Colborne Street level crossing near York Street shows a white ghost bike affixed to a tree on the west side of Colborne, suggesting there's been more than one fatal accident here. (Google Streetview)

Wever said the intersection is dangerous because of poor lines of sight, which are exacerbated when snow is piled high in the winter.

'There's no way you'd stop in time'

The auger from a bobcat lies in the snow on Tuesday morning after it was severed from a sidewalk snowplow during a fatal collision with a CN train in downtown London. (Gary Ennett/CBC News)

The CN train was travelling eastbound, which Wever said means the driver couldn't see the level crossing until he rounded a bend in the rails and, by then, the crossing at Colborne Street is a mere 250 metres away. Too short for a typical freight train measuring 12,000 feet to stop in time. 

"Say you're coming at 50 [miles per hour], boy, there's no way you'd stop in time," he said. "Even if they had seen him and they're coming through at 50 or, if they have special dangerous [cargo] and come through at 35, even if you dump the air to stop, you would have killed the guy from that distance," Wever said. 

Witnesses near the crash site reported hearing the train blow its whistle as it approached the level crossing.

"Of course you're blowing the horn," Wever said, noting it's possible the snowplow operator was wearing hearing protection and was unable to hear the oncoming train. 

"There's no gate to protect the sidewalk and there's no gate on either four corners to protect the sidewalk." 

"So if [the snowplow operator] is not paying attention, he'd just continue on the sidewalk and he's not aware the train is coming, he's going to get hit."

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca