Has anyone noticed anything different about the many trains that pass through our City on a daily basis?
For over a decade trains that traveled on the north/south CPR main line between Calgary and Edmonton were restricted by a Transport Canada imposed slow order of 20mph over the level crossing at mile 18.47 Leduc Sub. That actual location is the Hwy. 12 level crossing in the centre of Lacombe. The purpose for that ‘slow order’ occurred at 8:45 a.m. on Oct. 6th, 2001.
A Northern Truck Lines truck, hauling a tank and pup-tank filled with Liquid Petroleum Gas stopped at the traffic light governing westbound traffic on Hwy. 12. There is only 27 ft. of room from the stop line and the west rail of the track so the loaded tanks were not clear of the track but in fact sat directly blocking that very track. Train #403 was approaching Lacombe at this very time, at the posted allowable train speed of 55mph. The engineer on the train had a clear view of the situation and placed the train braking system in emergency, effectively applying the brakes on every car of the train as hard as they can go. He knew that his train would take almost a mile to stop and impact was virtually imminent. Eastbound motorists, waiting at the crossing with the warning lights flashing, saw the train and heard its whistle blowing. They could see the potential accident about to happen before their very eyes so they were backing up, trying To escape from their extremely dangerous position. Their activities got the attention of the truck driver who now reacted and pulled westbound, through the red light, as fast as he could trying frantically to get his explosive cargo clear of the track.
The locomotive engineer, who had done all that he could, continued to blow the engine whistle until the last minute then flung himself on the floor of the cab certain that he and his crew would be killed. Witnesses estimated that the locomotive missed the back of the pup-tank by no more than 18.
That near collision was a wake-up call for Transport Canada. They realized that the Hwy. 12 level crossing, at the intersection of Hwys. 12 and 2A, was extremely dangerous because of the traffic light and the tendency of drivers to become trapped on the track while stopped by that very light. They mandated that trains could not exceed 20mph, over that crossing, until the Railway and the Road Authority made significant improvements to the safety of that location. We have all witnessed vehicles of all types becoming trapped on the crossing awaiting for a traffic signal to proceed. Therein lies the entire safety issue of Hwy. 12 crossing in a nutshell. As motorists we must never pull onto any railway track unless there is room for us to pull off.
For well over a decade every train passing through Lacombe had slowed to 20mph. Then the province, the City and the railway made significant improvements to the entire length of Hwy. 2A passing through our City. These improvements especially included the railway crossing, with improved exit lanes and lengthened train approach warning zones. Early this year Transport Canada deemed the 20mph slow order no longer needed and in February of this year the train speeds were increased to their previous limit of 55mph. With little notice or advance warnings of any kind the trains went from 20mph to 55mph overnight.
Well people please let this serve as your warning. Fences have been erected along the track through Lacombe. The next step for our City Fathers will be to apply for an anti-whistling by-law allowing the trains to pass through Lacombe at 55mph while not sounding the whistle at any of our three level crossings. As motorists and pedestrians alike we must exercise much more diligence while crossing railway tracks. From the early 1980s until the present there have been seven accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians with multiple fatalities in our City limits. Let’s all make sure that there are no more.