The Hinton train disaster revisited


Follow up from original post: The Hinton Train Disaster

Sometimes when you have a weblog you stray from what you normally type about and end up learning something in the process. In my case, last year I posted about the Hinton train disaster that occurred in Canada in 1986. Even though I watch a lot of disaster shows on both Discover Channel and National Geographic, I must admit that this particular program left a real impression on me.

Looking back now compared to some of the other disasters I've watched documentaries about, this one in particular seemed on the surface to be so tragically simple: a freight locomotive failing to break in the designated overtaking side rails resulting in a head-on collision with a passenger train. The resulting investigation afterward though showed the problem was anything but simple: whether it was into driver fatigue resulting from unpredictable and drawn out shifts, signals that were neither large nor clear enough, the inherent risks involved with having freight and passenger trains sharing a single railway line…

I guess the reason this particular documentary has really stuck with me over any of the others was beacuse of the human element. An aeroplane with a failing engine or faulty rudder, or a train crashing as a result of bad weather are clearly no less tragic than a head on collision with a train, but in these cases it's safe to say they're outside human control; I guess the old adage was "an act of God". By contrast, the Hinton train collision was entirely the result of humans, which has brought up more questions since I watched the show. With all out technology, are we losing or forgetting the human element? With all our sophisticated machines nowadays, are we forgetting that humans are still ultimately the ones controlling them?

I've received a lot of feedback in the form of comments and emails from people as a result of my original post, including a very friendly post from Mrs Heyd who's husband survived the crash.

Who would have thought a quick dinner break on a weekday would have such a huge effect on how I view the world?

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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