Ottawa Citizen 30 May 1979|
Turbo trains pulled off rails in wake of mysterious blaze. (with pictures)
MORRISBURG Via Rail pulled its Turbo super trains out of service today and the federal government announced a full-scale investigation into the cause of a fire that badly damaged a Turbo near here Tuesday.
The fire in the lead engine of the Via Rail Turbo passenger train forced evacuation of 210 passengers on a desolate stretch of track.
No one was seriously hurt in the fire which occurred on a run from Montreal to Toronto.
The two-hour blaze, which sent clouds of smoke billowing into the early evening sky, reduced a power dome car and a coach to molten plastic. Two other coaches on the nine-unit Turbo, which has a capacity for 392 passengers, sustained serious heat, smoke and water damage in the 5:15 p.m. blaze.
Via Rail, the Crown corporation which operates the country's passenger raii services, said it has taken its other two Turbo super trains out of service pending its own investigation.
The federal government decided to conduct its investigation following a meeting today of the Canadian Transport Commission's railway transport committee.
The committee invoked a section of the Railway Act which empowers the commission to appoint investigators to look into all matters concerning the cause, circumstances and prevention of accidents.
The Turbos were replaced on the Montreal-Toronto run with slower, conventional equipment. Via Rail operates two Turbos daily in each direction. The replacement trains will take about 30 minutes longer to make the run.
The only known injuries following Tuesday's fire were sprained ankles suffered by passengers on the soft railway roadbed during a 1.5-kilometre trek from the scene to the nearest crossing, about six kilometres west of Morrisburg.
Volunteer firefighters from Iroquois, Morrisburg and Williamsburg were forced to drive their trucks down the track, taking 30 minutes to reach the scene.
Firemen sprayed foam and water on the burning Turbo units for 90 minutes before the fire was brought under control about 7:20 p.m.
A Canadian National regional superintendent who had been a passenger on the Turbo said the equipment should not have burned because built-in fire extinguishing systems are designed to activate automatically when engine heat exceeds a certain-level.
However, Daniel Rosseel, Via's Quebec region spokesman, said from Montreal that the Turbo does not have an automatic fire extinguishing system, but is equipped with emergency indicator lights on a control panel in the engineer's compartment.
Passengers from the Turbo train which burned near here Tuesday finally arrived in Toronto at 11:30 p.m., about 3!/2 hours late.
After a 2 1/2-hour wait beside the tracks, the stranded passengers were picked up by the regularly-scheduled Rapido from Montreal. At Brockville a number of passengers were transferred to the Exec from Ottawa, also on a regular run.
About 25 metres of track and several ties will be replaced today as a result of the fire, said Raymond Menard, a CN foreman based in Ir-oquois. Although the job will take up to four hours, service won't be disrupted because traffic will be switched to the parallel track, he said.
Menard said that about eight ties were damaged by fire. While the rail appeared undamaged, it may have been weakened by the fire and will be replaced as a precaution.
Daniel Rosseel, Via Rail's Quebec region spokesman, said work crews took five hours to make the damaged train mobile so it could be hauled to Montreal.
Another Turbo train left Montreal as scheduled today, while in Toronto a Rapido was being used as a replacement for the regularly-scheduled Turbo run to Montreal.
A Via Rail spokesman said he was not sure if it would be feasible to repair the Turbo a sleek single body structure and return it to service. There are still two other Turbo units in service. All the Turbo units are 12 years old.
In Toronto, Maurice Simms, Via's Ontario region spokesman, said that while the Turbo has had a checkered history of malfunctions, the one aspect officials were, and still are, not worried about is safety.
"No, we are not concerned with the safety aspect of the Turbo," said Simms. "We are not unduly alarmed."
In 1973, a CN Turbo caught fire just west of Montreal while on a demonstration run for officials of Am-trak, the U.S. passenger rail company. Amtrak was still sufficiently impressed with the train to buy it.
Upset passengers trek out safely.
Passengers from Via Rail's Toronto-bound Turbo that burst into flames Tuesday near Morrisburg claim the train's crew was under-equipped and slow in reacting to the blaze.
Terry Taylor of London, who was travelling home from Moncton and was in the lead car when the fire started, said there was smoke coming from the engine area but no one believed there was a fire.
"They could have probably put it out, but the train people had to go five cars back to get a fire extinguisher," said Taylor. Via officials said Tuesday each unit is equipped with a fire extinguisher.
Taylor was one of 210 passengers who rolled into Toronto's Union Station late Tuesday aboard the Rapido, a Via train that picked them up about three kilometres from the fire site.
Helen Daroch of Toronto, who was returning home with her sister Doris Birch, said passengers "were told there should have been some device to put out the flames in the engine panel but all they had was little fire extinguishers."
Birch said: "We got away quickly when we heard the train was mostly plastic."
Mary Mclntyre of Toronto said she was dumped out in the middle of nowhere, forced to walk three kilometres on track rails and then stood for three hours waiting for another train.
"Not once did anyone say they were sorry," she said. "They were rude, and you can bet I'm going to write them a pretty nasty letter."
Clara West of Burlington said passengers were plagued by mosquitoes after being ordered from the train.
She fell while walking to the nearby village of Iroquois and received treatment for a badly sprained leg.
Judi Jewinski, of Waterloo, said she took the Turbo by accident and joked to a friend that she hoped she'd make it, referring to the problems that had plagued the train in the past.
She said a conductor came through their coach telling passengers they would have to leave the train for a few minutes because of technical difficulties.
"When I got out, the front was in flames," she said.
When the passengers finally arrived in Toronto, a shaky and tearful Mary Harrietha, of Halifax, hugged and kissed her two children Danny, 22, and Laura, 20, whom she hadn't seen in a year.
"I was scared stiff," she said. "There was a huge explosion and I didn't know what to do. I was afraid my kids would think I was dead."
Ottawa Journal 30 May 1979
Passengers from flaming train trek down tracks
Engine in flames within 15 minutes
Peter Buckley of Montreal, a passenger on Via Rail's Turbo train, said there was no indication of fire when the train came to a stop in the wooded area near Iroquois Tuesday.
He said about .five minutes later crew members rushed through advising passengers to leave the train.
"Stepping out on to the track we could sec flames and heavy black smoke coming out through the exhaust on the top of the train."
Within 15 minutes the engine was engulfed in flames, he said. "There was a lot of damage," said OPP Constable Lee McCasslin. "The engine is all burned up, the next car is demolished and the third is badly smoked. There was a lot of fibreglass. It just melted down."
The front car was so badly damaged the body sagged on to the rails, he said.
Iroquois, Morrisburg and Williamsburg volunteer fire departments fought the blaze for about three hours before it was extinguished at 7:20 p.m.
The accident tied up the westbound line for about four hours. The train with its burned- to out engine and coaches was towed back Montreal.
Via owns three of the nine-car, self-propelled turbo-trains, inherited from CN when it took over all inter-city passenger train service last year from CN and CP Rail.
The fire is not the first on a turbo, designed by United Technologies of Hartford, Conn., and built by its Canadian subsidiary. Pratt" and Whitney Co. Ltd., in Montreal.
In 1973, a CN Turbo caught fire just west of Montreal while on a demonstration run for officials of Amtrak after the train sideswiped a freight car.
Via Rail spokesman Brian Heath said it was too early to say whether Via would reassess the use of turbos.
The train, powered by gas-turbine engines, was supposed to enter service in 1967, but did not appear until December, 1968, because of construction delays.
A month later service was suspended because of winter operating problems and did not resume until May, 1970. It was suspended again in February, 1971, because of more mechanical problems. Service resumed again in June, 1973
Ottawa Citizen 31 May 1979
Turbo burns near Iroquois
Open probe may be held into Turbo train's safety
A public inquiry may be held into the safety of Via Rail's Turbo super-trains following Tuesday's fire which forced the evacuation of 210 passengers from a train near Morrisburg.
The federal government has begun a full investigation into what caused the lead engine to burst into flames during a run from Montreal to Toronto.
Canadian Transport Commission investigators will also look at fire-prevention equipment carried by Turbos and at materials used in construction of the trains.
Whether a public inquiry is held "largely depends on what's turned up by the investigators," a commission official said. Two investigators were appointed Wednesday.
Via Rail, the Crown corporation which operates passenger trains service, has suspended its Montreal-Toronto Turbo service indefinitely pending its own investigation.
Besides the Turbo badly damaged by fire, Via Rail owns two other sleek Turbo trains each made up of two engines and seven passenger cars.
The Turbos - which normally operate two runs daily in each direction between Montreal and Toronto have been replaced by slower diesel-pulled trains that take about 30 minutes longer for the journey.
Via Rail officials are trying to determine what caused the fire and whether the fire-extinguishing equipment carried on the train functioned as it should have, a corporation official said Wednesday.
The three Turbo trains were purchased at an estimated cost of $5 million each from the United Aircraft company about 12 years ago.
The lead engine and the car immediately behind were burned out in the fire, which raged unchecked for some time because of the difficulty firefighters had in reaching the isolated spot.
Via Rail has not yet estimated the cost of the damage, but it is believed it could exceed $1 million.
United Aircraft no longer makes Turbos, and the cost of rebuilding the burned-out engine would be "horrendous," a Via Rail official said.
Via Rail is considering asking Amtrak, the U.S. government-owned passenger rail service, whether it has a replacement Turbo for sale.
Amtrak paid from $3 million to $5 million each for its Turbo trains, an Amtrak spokesman in Washington said Wednesday.
Tuesday's fire is the latest blow to the Turbo, which was plagued with technical problems when it first went into service.
Via Rail, whose operating deficit runs at about $200 million a year, has relied heavily on the Turbo's speed and comfort to woo travellers.
Ottawa Citizen 1 June 1979
Via must either scrap two Turbos or buy mothballed unit from U.S.
Via Rail is considering scrapping its last two high-speed Turbo trains after one went up in flames Tuesday, officials say.
Its other alternative would be to buy one or more similar turbine-powered trains from the U.S. government's Amtrak passenger rail service.
Amtrak has already mothballed its three Turbos of the same type, opting for French-made trains that are easier to maintain.
Via Rail officials say no decision is likely on future use of Turbo trains until after a minute examination of the wreckage of the train that caught fire Tuesday on a run from Montreal to Toronto.
The Turbos have been withdrawn from service indefinitely pending an investigation of the fire.
It was the third Turbo to catch fire, not counting one that burned near Montreal in 1973 after it side-swiped a freight train while on a test run.
A CN Turbo was destroyed by fire in 1975 and one of the Amtrak Turbos was also damaged by fire about two years ago, although Amtrak says this was not the reason the controversial trains were withdrawn from service.
The Via Rail Turbo's lead engine that burst into flames near Morrisburg will be examined in Montreal by investigators of Via Rail and the Canadian Transport Commission.
Via Rail officials say they hope the investigation will show whether there is a hidden defect in the engine that caused the fire.
Via Rail spokesman Brian Heath said it would be unfair to lump the 1973 fire with the others, because it occurred after a crash. "Even a Rolls Royce can catch fire if you drive it into a truck."
Until now, Via Rail has operated two Turbo trains on the Montreal-Toronto run, with the third held in reserve. Via Rail president Frank Roberts says three Turbos are needed to maintain the service.
Amtrak says it would be happy to sell one or more of its mothballed Turbos to Via Rail. It bought one of them from CN several years ago for about $2 million.
Amtrak spokesman Jim Bryant said the three Turbos were taken out of service because of mechanical problems. He said Canadian operators have been more successful in overcoming the problems. Even so, it is necessary to take the entire train out of service every time a fault develops in one car, he said.
Heath said the Canadian Turbos have had a 98 per cent reliability record in recent months.
Ottawa Journal 5 June 1979
Turbo train still in Morrisburg
MORRISBURG Via Rail's burned out Turbo train was still in Morrisburg today undergoing a preliminary on-site investigation. Plans to take the train to Montreal for investigation and repairs on Friday were changed when officials of a number of the parties involved decided to make a preliminary check at the site of the accident.
Investigators check Turbo train wreckage
MORRISBURG (Staff) Via Rail's burned-out Turbo train is still in Morrisburg today undergoing a preliminary on-site investigation.
Plans to take the train to Montreal for investigation and repairs on Friday were changed when officials of a number of the parties involved decided to make a preliminary check at the site of the accident.
The front three units of a nine-unit Turbo, bound for Toronto. caught fire a few miles west of here last Tuesday night.
Via Rail sent two gondola cars, a flatbed car and a crane down from Montreal Thursday but they are still here and will probably take the damaged units back to Montreal sometime this week.
Investigators from Via Rail, CN, Pratt and Whitney and the Canadian Transportation Commission are in Morrisburg for the preliminary inspection.
Ottawa Citizen 6 June 1979
Turbo train taken away
The wrecked lead engine of the highspeed Turbo train that caught fire a week ago near Morrisburg was to be taken to Montreal today.
The engine was lifted by crane onto a CN flatbed car Tuesday in preparation for the move to the Taschereau yards, where it will undergo further investigation to determine what caused it to burst into flames. The fire forced the evacuation of 210 passengers.
The remaining eight units on the super-train are expected to be towed to the Turbo service bay at Montreal's Central Station today for extensive safety checks.
Via Rail officials said the delay in moving the disabled train from the site of the fire resulted from a desire to carry out a "full on-site investigation."
Meanwhile, Via Rail, the Crown corporation that operates passenger train service, has suspended its Montreal-Toronto Turbo run indefinitely, pending the outcome of the investigation, and safety checks.
In addition to the Turbo damaged by the fire. Via Rail owns two other sleek Turbo trains, each made up of two engines and seven passenger cars. The fire investigation is being carried out by experts from the Canadian Transportation Commission, Via Rail and Canadian National.
Ottawa Citizen 19 June 1979
Turbo fire result of break in pipe
TORONTO (CP) A broken pipe allowing fuel to spray over a hot engine was the cause of a fire that destroyed three cars' of a Turbo train last month, Frank Roberts, president of VIA Rail Canada Inc., said Monday.
VIA's two other Turbo trains, pulled off the tracks for safety checks following the fire, will remain out of service until an investigation by the Canadian Transport Commission is completed.
"We know what caused the fire but we don't know why the pipe broke or why the fire extinquishing system did not put it out," said Roberts.
Ottawa Journal 3 July 1979
Fuel line break caused train fire
Via Rail investigators know what caused the fire that wrecked one of their Turbo-trains in Morrisburg on May 29, but they still don't know why.
Emery LeBIanc, public relations director for Via Rail In Montreal, said the initial ' report on the fire shows that a break in a fuel line brought fuel into the engine where it was ignited.
But they don't know yet why the line broke.
More than 200 passengers were forced to . flee the train when fire broke out in the engine a few miles west of Morrisburg. No one was injured but the front three units of the nine-unit train were gutted by the fire.
LeBIanc said no decision will be made on whether to restore the Turbo service until the full investigation is completed.
Ottawa Citizen 31 July 1979
Turbos back on the tracks
Two of Via Rail's turbo trains will be returned to service today, following a two-month investigation into a fire which damaged the company's third locomotive.
Via spokesman Brian Heath said the train involved in the May 29 accident near Iroquois, will not return to service.
Via Rail made the announcement after the Canadian Transport Commission said it was satisfied with safety modifications submitted.
Heath said the trains have been fitted with a new type of fuel line. Changes to the automatic fire alarm and extinguishing systems were also planned.
Investigators found the fire aboard the third locomotive started when a stainless steel pipe corroded by the sulphur content of the fuel broke, spraying fuel over the hot turbine engine, he said.
The fire started in the front power car and spread to the next two cars. The 200 passengers and crew members were evacuated safely.
The two trains that will be returned to service were scheduled on two after noon round-trip runs between Montreal and Toronto.