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July 23, 2014

Lawyer for crew: Failure to remove snow caused Two Harbors derailment

An attorney for injured crew members says a failure by Canadian National to remove snow from its railroad tracks led to the derailment in Two Harbors earlier this month.

Attorney Cortney LeNeave tells the Lake County News Chronicle CN had been warned about unsafe conditions earlier on Dec. 5 when a crew temporarily lost control of a different train on the same stretch of track.

A spokesman for Canadian National would not comment on the specifics of the derailment, which is under investigation, but told the News Chronicle the railway has winter plans that keep trains running during severe weather.

The derailment involved nearly 100 cars on a train carrying iron ore pellets soon after a snowstorm had dropped 42 inches on Two Harbors.

In the days after the accident, authorities indicated that only two of the four crew members assigned to the train were on board at the time of the derailment.

In his remarks to the News Chronicle, LaNeave explained the situation this way: The four crew members included two who were operating the train and two who had finished their shifts and were returning to the rail yard in Two Harbors. A four-mile descent leads into the Two Harbors yard from the north. On the way down that hill the train began to accelerate out of control, leading two crew members to jump from the train, LaNeave says.

Another employee at LaNeave’s law firm tells the News Chronicle trains should be traveling 20 miles per hour on that stretch of track but the train on Dec. 5 was going 50 mph when the crew members jumped from it.

Canadian National told Northland’s News Center last week that both injured crew members had been released from the hospital, although the News Chronicle reports one remains hospitalized.

The president of the National Association of Railroad Safety Consultants recently told National Geographic that train derailments are up across the country.  Speaking in the wake of a passenger train derailment that killed four people in New York City, Robert Halstead told National Geographic derailments sometimes have technical causes and often involve human error. He says brake failures are rare.

A retired engineer who spoke with the News Chronicle says railroad brakes only work when they’re hot, which means stopping a train in cold and snow is especially difficult.