Labrador West trained in case of railway disaster

The fatal collision between a double-decker bus and a Via rail train in Ottawa on Wednesday has been a jarring reality check for people in western Labrador.
Labrador west is the only region in the province with a railway. (CBC)

The fatal collision between a double-decker bus and a VIA rail train in Ottawa on Wednesday has been a jarring reality check for people in western Labrador.

The area is home to the province's only railway.

It's the type of disaster that officials in the region fear, but believe they're prepared for. 

Lloyd Hobbs of Safety Services Newfoundland and Labrador oversaw a mock disaster on the tracks this spring – the same scenario that played out in Ottawa.

"The scenario that we had, it's a little bit eerie in a sense, that it's pretty identical to what we have on the news now," he said.

Hobbs said the mock disaster gave first responders and others an idea of what to expect in the event of a real accident.

"We try as much as possible through Operation Lifesaver [Canada] to address the issues of level crossings across the country. We could identify some of the problems, find solutions, and have that sort of work mapped out – before there was actually a real live need for such a response." 

'We are quite prepared'

Wabush Mayor Ron Barron said the exercise was valuable for all involved. 

"I think that in the event anything like that happens here in our area — we are quite prepared," said Barron.

Barron said the exercise allowed teams to experience real-life situations in a controlled environment.

"That kind of helped us immensely this past summer with the forest fire we had."

Most crossings in Labrador are on the Trans-Labrador Highway, some marked by lights, but none with safety arms.

Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford said she thinks changes need to be made.   

"We are very concerned to have another level crossing without any safeguards, to keep people away from these iron ore trains," she said.

As mining activity increases in the area, so does traffic on the rails.

"I guess we're an anomaly in that we're the only railway left in Labrador... so we've been asking them to have a look and try to develop some new standards," she said.

One change is Cliff's Underpass, rail lines that once split Wabush and Labrador City. It rides above, while people pass below.

"At some point, unfortunately, there is going to be an accident if we don't do something about it," Oldford told CBC News.

According to the Transportation Safety Board, there have been four accidents since 2004 at rail crossings in Labrador, two of which have caused serious injuries.


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