British Columbia

CP Rail manager guilty in case of train left on B.C. mountainside without handbrakes

A CP Rail manager faces possible jail time for his role in illegally parking a freight train carrying explosive materials on a mountain slope above Revelstoke, B.C., without proper handbrakes.

Company and second manager found not guilty in February 2015 incident

A CP train rolls through Greely Road crossing, the site of the 2015 incident. (Courtesy of Bob Bittner)

A CP Rail manager faces possible jail time for his role in illegally parking a freight train carrying explosive materials on a mountain slope above Revelstoke, B.C., without proper handbrakes.

Last week, a B.C. provincial court judge found Tim McClelland guilty of two charges of contravening an emergency directive from Transport Canada, a breach of the Railway Safety Act.

"On a balance of probabilities, Mr. McClelland did not exercise all due diligence to prevent the commission of the offences," Judge Richard Hewson wrote.

Canadian Pacific Railway and former CP superintendent Mark Jackson were acquitted of the same charges.

McClelland was director of dispatching at CP's Calgary operations centre when 58 railcars were left unattended on the main track east of Revelstoke in the early hours of Feb. 15, 2015, according to the provincial court judgment.

Two of those cars held ammonium nitrate, a potentially explosive chemical that is also dangerous to fish.

At the time, CP Rail was scrambling to lock down all of its equipment because of a pending workers' strike.

The only mechanism holding the train in place was the air brakes, despite an emergency directive issued after the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in Quebec that laid out the number of hand brakes needed to secure freight trains.

'Absurd' directions

According to Hewson's judgment, the train's crew left the cars unattended after speaking with a rail traffic controller who'd received directions from McClelland and Jackson.

At trial, McClelland's defence team argued the crew members had misunderstood his directions. The lawyers argued he'd only meant for the tail of the train to be left temporarily while 19 cars carrying fuel oil were separated and secured on a backtrack.

But the crew understood things differently, according to the judgment.

The only two workers on the train, a conductor and an engineer, both questioned the directions repeatedly, the judge said. The engineer testified that he found it "absurd" to leave the train on a mountainside without handbrakes.

Rail cars are parked near the site of the 2015 incident. (Dave Seglins/CBC)

Their concerns were apparently dismissed out of hand, according to an audio recording of a phone call between McClelland and Jackson that was played for the court.

McClelland told Jackson, "Now, of course, they're saying, 'We're gonna tie on 40 handbrakes, then we're gonna push the cars in, then we'll knock off the 40 handbrakes and then come into Revelstoke and tie on another 40 handbrakes.'"

Jackson replied, "No, no, no, no, no," and later mocked the crew members, calling them "two idiots."

'His mistake was not reasonable'

The judge said McLelland should have realized the crew members didn't understand.

"It was clear from Mr. McClelland's conversation with Mr. Jackson that he knew that the crew was concerned with the number of handbrakes that would have to be applied. If Mr. McClelland mistakenly thought that his subordinates understood his direction … his mistake was not reasonable.," Hewson wrote.

As for Jackson, the judge said that he was given "incorrect or misleading" information by McClelland, and it was reasonable for him to mistakenly believe the train would be properly secured.

Hewson also said CP had all the necessary plans and training in place to prevent something like this.

"It was not reasonably foreseeable that a director-dispatcher like Mr. McClelland would perform his duties in a way that resulted in a direction that railway equipment be left unattended without being properly secured," the judge wrote.

In a written statement, a CP spokesperson said the company was pleased with the decision, saying that "CP takes safety very seriously."

However, the spokesperson would not say whether McClelland still works for CP. Jackson, meanwhile, was fired.

A sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled for McClelland. The offence carries a maximum penalty of $50,000 in fines and/or six months in jail.

With files from Dave Seglins

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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