Isaac Zalit, 4, sticks his tongue out as he connects with a ball during the annual Elks Soccer Shoot.
Photo by Jeff Brady
TSB report recounts fatal 2006 derailment
Too many over-loaded cars, bad brakes, untrained crew caused runaway train
By STEPHANIE WADDELL
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has released its findings in its investigation of the Sept. 3, 2006 White Pass Yukon Route train derailment.
The derailment killed a Carcross man and left other crew members injured.
The train was overloaded and suffering from a diminished brake system with a crew of employees who were without the proper guidelines and training, the report concluded.
Its a combination of factors, Terry Toporowski, the boards regional senior investigator in the railway and pipelines branch, told reporters on Nov. 6 in Whitehorse.
Those factors include the overloaded cars and make-up of the train, steepness of the grade, ineffective brakes on the cars and absence of comprehensive operating instructions of safe descents in steep mountains.
Other factors were the trains speed and the state of the charge on the air brake system on the grade, the speed the train reached before the brakes were applied and the absence of a functioning dynamic brake on the locomotive.
Without regulations, safety procedures and guidelines, railway workers learned from senior staff.
They took what they thought was safe because thats how they were educated, Toporowski said. There were no rules in place to prevent them from doing what they did.
He spoke during a press conference for the reports release at the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel.
He was joined by Dan Holbrook, the boards manager of western regional operations in railway and pipeline investigations, and Ian Naish, director of investigations in the branch who was on-hand to answer questions in French.
The report notes that at Log Cabin, the crew, made up of an engineer, conductor and two heavy equipment operators, loaded the eight cars.
Before heading off to Bennett, B.C., a brake test was done. The engineer asked the conductor to set a retainer (a valve which helps operate the brake system) after telling him how its done.
The air brake was then released and the train took off, stopping about 55 kilometres in, where the conductor then set the rest of the retainers on the cars.
As the train continued on, the engineer eventually moved to an independent brake after releasing the automatic brake in an effort to avoid stalling.
Descending down a 3.3 per cent grade, the train started to pick up speed, while the engineer continued to use the independent brake to control the speed.
As the speed reached 29 kilometres per hour, the engineer increased the automatic brake use, just short of a full service brake application.
Smoke was seen coming from the trains wheels.
At about Mile 35.5 (Kilometre 57), the train speed was approximately 32 kph and the locomotive engineer, realizing that the train was a runaway, placed the automatic brake into emergency and made an emergency radio broadcast, reads the 33-page report.
However because there was no direct radio link, neither the dispatcher nor the roadmaster heard the call.
The train continued going faster, derailing at about Kilometre 59 after the conductor jumped out.
The derailment killed Bruce Harder, one of the two heavy equipment operators, with the other three crew members suffering injuries.
In December 2006, Transport Canada issued the White Pass and Yukon Route a letter of non-compliance and a notice citing its violations under the Railway Safety Act.
The railway was also issued an order in June 2007 that it not operate trains between Bennett and Carcross unless theres a system ensuring the crew on the train can communicate with the rail traffic controller.
Transport Canada continued to issue orders to the White Pass and Yukon Route outlining actions the railway would have to take.
The report notes that since 2007, White Pass has been updating Transport Canada on the measures it has taken in response to the orders and notices that were issued.
installing retaining valves on all its trains and cars;
stenciling load limits on its cars;
providing the proper training, instruction and guidelines for its staff;
reinforcing safety procedures already in place;
providing job and safety manuals to staff;
acquiring satellite phones for the trains;
providing a number of bulletins to employees on operations;
coming up with a corrective action plan;
hiring a full-time safety manager; and
documenting and filing all maintenance.
Were proud of the steps weve taken, White Pass president Gary Danielson said in an interview following the documents release.
Before noting the work the company has done though, he said hes thankful for all the work the board has done and pointed out the railway did its own internal investigation on the tragedy in an effort to make sure nothing like that happens again.
He noted while the railway has taken steps to improve its safety, it has always had safety in mind, but the company didnt always document those measures as it should have.
Theres also been a good relationship with Transport Canada with the federal agency checking in with the rail line annually.
Were proud of our safety record, Danielson said.
The railway is much more aware of the importance of safety, he said.
Everyones a lot more cognizant of it, he said.
The boards investigation had originally been expected to take a year, but that timeline was extended to more than two years as it also went through two other major investigations.
Inspectors examine the wreckage of Engine 114 and the 8 ballast cars. Transportation Safety Board Canada
Interview with Gary Danielson
The Skagway News interviewed Gary Danielson, president of WP&YR, on Nov. 7, the day after the report was released to the public:
SN: Whats your general reaction to the TSB report and its conclusions regarding the runaway work train on Sept. 3, 2006?
DANIELSON: First of all I want to thank the TSB for their work. Its never easy. Were looking forward to continuing to improve the safety of our operations and taking steps to minimize the chances that an accident like this could happen again. We also had an 18-month internal investigation of the accident and we have our own conclusions, most of which were communicated to the TSB some of which they agreed to, and others they did not.
SN: It appears that WP&YR has cooperated with TSB, and taken action to prevent a similar incident from happening again. Is there anything in the report that you disagree with?
DANIELSON: We did cooperate with the TSB and have taken action. We disagreed with some things in the report, but it would not be appropriate to dispute any of those findings publicly.
SN: It says the crew decided to take all eight ballast cars instead of four - what this work train crew would normally take with one engine before this incident. Was this solely their decision, or were the roadmaster and/or operators involved in the decision?
DANIELSON: That was the train crews decision, engineer and conductor.
SN: What is the makeup of a typical work train with ballast cars leaving Log Cabin for Bennett now?
DANIELSON: As it always was, except during this time frame. Take the cars as needed, usually four. This was the only time eight went out that Im aware of.
SN: You have taken several steps outlined in the reports Safety Actions, including: a. communication of all work train operations to dispatcher; b. better training of work train crews on load limits, brake setting, and proper application of brakes for descending grades; c. Placing retainer brakes on all ballast cars, and ensuring dynamic braking is working on all engines. Is there anything else that WP&YR has done that the report did not mention in its Safety Actions?
DANIELSON: There are three pages of safety actions . I think its important to say safety is always our number one priority when we carry as many people as we do, and for our operating crews. In the past we relied on the experience of our crews, some who have 30 and 40 years experience. In the past we have worked with TSB, who does an annual inspection. New rules have come in since the accident. Most orders occurred after the fall of 2006. Were always cognizant of safety, but this has helped prepare our crews by having outside instructors come in to help us with our safety plans. We have a great training program now.
SN: Who is the new safety manager and what are his duties?
DANIELSON: Ed Ibbotson heads up the company safety committee which meets monthly, works with superintendent of rail operations and chief mechanical officer, agencies on both sides of border, and also addresses the needs of passengers and employees if there are any injuries.
FOLLOW-UP: Danielson would not comment on the status of train crew members Jeff Ruff and Lee Hartson Jr., saying it was a personnel issue. But he said the one Carcross operator who survived the wreck did go back to work. He said the company had followed Canadian law in dealing with the loss on the job of operator Bruce Harder, but could not give any details about compensation for his family in Carcross.
The News had also hoped to interview the train crew. Engineer Ruff, who remains on administrative leave, initially said he would talk, but when reached this week at his winter home in Washington, said he would have to refer questions to his attorney. The attorney said he could not comment. Conductor Hartson, who sustained the worst injuries of the three survivors, was reached at his winter home in Minnesota. He said he would rather not say anything about the report, but did say his recovery was coming along... Im about 85 percent. He was in Skagway for a short time last summer, and said he hopes to be working up here next summer.
The complete TSB report may be read at: www.tsb.gc.ca/en/reports/rail/2006/index.asp
Board of Game defers action on light-colored bear protection
New proposal likely unenforceable, F&G to return to Skagway
By JEFF BRADY
The state Board of Game on Monday deferred action on a proposal by a Skagway resident to change the protection language for white-colored bears in Unit 1D to something that would be enforceable.
But the suggested definition by proposal author John Warder of a light-phase black bear that has cream coloration (or lighter) over more than 30% of its body was viewed as unenforceable by those assembled at the fall meeting in Juneau.
The decision to defer action on Proposal 23 came after input from the public, Fish and Game biologists, and an attorney from the Department of Law. There was no objection by the board to waiting until after another meeting in Skagway, where staff would seek public input on a suggestion to protect all light-colored bears in the area. This would include glacier bears.
Board members were aware of the incident in Skagway last June, acknowledging that a 2007 order to protect white-colored black bears in Unit 1D failed. A Skagway man shot the so-called Spirit Bear on his property, causing an uproar in the community, especially after a state trooper and game biologists could not positively determine if the dead bear was white. The hunter, Thor Henricksen, said he thought it was a cinnamon bear. He was not charged.
Two Skagway residents, Mavis Irene Henricksen and Tim Bourcy, testified early in the proceedings on Friday and Saturday. This generated initial discussion among board members and staff.
Henricksen, mother of the hunter, urged the board on Friday afternoon to go back to its regulations in 1D before the 2007 white bear order. She said Skagway now has a bear problem, with a sow and three cubs visiting the town nightly.
Sadly, the present garbage bear has color-phased babies, she said.
She also was critical of Warder, a retired National Park Service employee, and accused his former employer of being determined to own the area. She said the Klondike Park is historical and was never intended to be a wildlife park. Warder was not present to defend himself but has said the proposal was his.
She said the 2007 order had created a situation with some people thinking they are teddy bears. She accused some tour drivers of baiting bears, and some hillside residents of feeding them.
She said she had a close encounter with a bear on her property, which is adjacent to her sons off Dyea Road. We all like wildlife, but not in our yards or at my house, she said, asking for a common sense balance and thanking the Fish and Game staff for doing their job.
Board members turned to the garbage bear situation, and said that Fish and Game should be consulted on how to handle them. But Henricksen said Skagway police had asked Fish and Game to do something on the sow and three cubs, and were turned down.
She credited the town with putting new regulations in place on garbage, but again alleged people were feeding bears and the town is taken over by outsiders in the summer.
This resulted in the sad situation that happened this summer, in the party of the hunter, who is mainly a goat hunter, she said.
She concluded by saying the municipality should address the problem, not the state.
Two Juneau residents spoke in favor of Proposal 23, saying the cream-colored Spirit Bears should be protected for photographers and all user groups to enjoy.
Bourcy testified on Saturday morning in support of the proposal. He thanked the board for the current order, a result of his last action as mayor in the summer of 2007, a letter requesting protection for the white-phased Spirit Bear.
Unfortunately, the protective order did not do what it was supposed to do, he said, adding, It was a colossal failure . A lot of people are upset with the way it was handled.
Bourcy said he was now looking at the approach of how we learned from what happened . I believe Proposal 23 is a step in the right direction.
He commended the trooper and biologists for coming to Skagway at his request in July to face the music and for being open to seeing regulations that are enforceable. He added that the community feels strongly about the issue, and the Spirit Bear also has value to the native community.
One board member (some were unidentified during the live streaming of the meeting on the board website) then said he was at a loss as to how to enforce the proposed language. We are going to struggle with this one I dont think the 30% (language) will do it, he said.
Short of putting an orange collar or tagging the bear, the board member said he did not think the bear could have been protected.
Bourcy was asked about the color of the bear that was shot, and said there was no question it was cream-colored over 30 percent of its body, but said there were other markings: it had dark ears and a dark muzzle. He said the current cub roaming Skagway is more like a glacier bear.
Another board member, Bob Bell of Fairbanks, recalled struggling with the language a year ago, and sought advice from legal and enforcement authorities. He asked Bourcy to hang around to help them work on new language.
We need to go back to the well on this thing to find out some way . Were in agreement, we gave it our best shot, well try again, said Bell, adding that the new glacier bear cub in the area was news to me.
Bourcy said he would stick around. Referencing Henricksens testimony about garbage bears from the previous day, he said, You cant legislate common sense . There are regulations in Skagway on disposal of solid waste. If a bear becomes a problem, it will be taken out.
He acknowledged that some in the community believe any bear can be shot, but there remain multiple opinions on the issue and a need to find some middle ground. What is known is that even with photographic evidence, Fish and Game could not say the dead bear was white, he said.
We cant send a message that its unenforceable, whats the point? Bourcy continued. The point is the public is asking for (protection) and we have a responsibility to the public to achieve that.
The Skagway Spirit Bear when it was a mostly white cub in July 2007. Eleven months later, when it was shot, it had more colors on its hide. The board is considering protection of all light-colored black bears in the future, but wants to hear from Skagway residents first. Andrew Cremata
Negotiations & Short Deliberation
Over the next two days, Bourcy said he had meetings with Fish and Game biologist Ryan Scott, board member Bell, and Kevin Saxby, an attorney with the Department of Law.
The solution we came up with was that we couldnt find enforceable language (on white or cream-colored bears) so the logical place was to go was close it to glacier bears, he said. But Ryan didnt want to go there without a public meeting.
Bourcy said Saxby reviewed the language in Warders cream-colored proposal, and concluded that it was no different that calling it white-phased. Bourcy said Saxby could not prosecute a case on the suggested 30 percent cream-colored proposal. He said, you cant count hairs on animals.
Bourcy returned home Sunday evening, saying he knew what the staff recommendation would be.
The board finally got to Unit 1D proposals late Monday morning. The live feed was interrupted during the start of the Proposal 23 discussion, but Scott confirmed in an e-mail that they recommended the board defer any decision until we have another meeting in Skagway. Both Scott and Saxby gave brief testimony on the recommendation.
Board members then discussed the recommendation for about five minutes, and the need for staff to go back to Skagway. They noted they had been deluged with written comments.
Folks there need to decide whether to protect white-colored bears or light-colored bears, said one board member. A light-colored bear is a broader coalition.
He added that a hunter could look at a regulation based on Proposal 23 and then look at a bear, and say, Its not cream, its blonde or its not blonde, its tan. He said, All light colored bears would have to be involved in the prohibition of some kind . I suggest folks think along those lines.
Another board member said they could look at extremes: no bear hunt at all, or no light or glacier bears. Then theres the other side which says, Where do we hunt bears?
Member Ted Spraker of Anchorage asked Saxby about the extent of protection if people were known to be feeding bears. If we protect it, knowing we protected it, and it becomes a garbage bear, are we liable?
Saxby responded that since it is illegal for anyone to feed or harass bears, then the liability risk would be minimal.
Member Ben Grussendorf of Sitka concluded the discussion questioning how intelligent the mother sow was, being into its third year with cubs and recognizing any handouts or welfare Im wondering if food has taken precedence over sex.
Everyone laughed, and then Chair Cliff Judkins asked if there was any objection to the recommendation to defer action on Proposal 23. Hearing none, he then said, Were out of that subject.
Prop. 26 Passes & Bears Return
The board continued its meeting through Tuesday. It did pass Proposal 26 by the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Board, which will allow an archery-only goat hunt in what is known as the Skagway Pie, an area north of town along the highway corridor that had been closed since 1985. Scott said a recent aerial count of goats in the area totaled 118, including 19 kids, well over the threshold of 100 for allowing a hunt.
In the meantime, the bears roaming downtown have not yet gone away to hibernate, despited the colder weather.
Mayor Tom Cochran sent out a public notice Nov. 7 (see letters) warning people to be aware and vigilant about the family of bears being engaged by police downtown, and how they were becoming accustomed to people. Hopefully, we can resolve this issue without resorting to destroying these animals, he wrote.
Earlier this week police said they had not seen the bears for a week, but then there were two reports this past Tuesday night. According to police, a caller reported a bear on 4th at about 9:45 p.m., and another reported a bear knocking over a fuel tank on 20th. There was no spill.
Cochran urged everyone to be careful until we are satisfied the bears have left the area.
Public voices support for purchase of big tract
By JEFF BRADY
About 30 local residents gathered for a town meeting at the Elks after last Fridays burger feed to hear Mayor Tom Cochran explain the municipalitys interest in the Garden City RV Park tract, also known as the old mission property.
Cochran said it probably wasnt the best night for the meeting, since a big wedding was going on, but he said the assembly did not want to proceed without hearing from the public.
Then he went round the room and asked individual opinions. All but a couple residents said the borough should purchase the property.
The asking price of the property remains $1.85 million, even though a recent reevaluation by the borough assessor, values it at $1.877 million.
Cochran said various ideas for the land include a senior center, vocational college, public safety building, subdivision for starter homes, or a combination of the above.
But he stressed, We have no plan at this point, adding that they would likely have to run the RV park for two or three years before anything is done.
The first to speak was Jack Inhofe, and he set the tone for the evening. If Skagway doesnt buy it, who will? he asked.
Several in the audience posed the same question and urged the borough to grab the property before someone outside the community buys it. Several brought up housing concerns. One wanted an arts center. Others said the borough needed to be mindful that there is a school across the street, and uses should be compatible.
There were a couple people interested in the propertys commercial potential. Fairway Market owner Ed Fairbanks said his market has out-grown its present site, and the only place big enough to put up a new 16,000 to 20,000 square foot grocery store was the mission property. He said a new store would take up one of the three city blocks, adding that if the store moved into a new building, then they would sell the current store property at 4th and State.
Others supported the RV business being maintained somewhere in the community. Luke Rauscher said the borough needs to find out how much money it makes.
But he favored the tract being used mostly for housing, making it available to young couples to purchase on a lottery system. Other young couples echoed this, saying they would love to buy a lot.
There were some questions about how much of the Jay Frey Land Fund should be used for the purchase. The fund currently has about $2.32 million in it, so a $1.85 million sale would use most of it.
Jim Jewell said the land fund was originally set up as a rainy day account which would grow, and eventually interest payments would help reduce property taxes.
I really dont think the city should be in the business of buying property, he said, adding that if Skagway did buy it, then it should be zoned for multiple uses.
Rocky Hahn was another resident who questioned why government was getting into the land business, when it should be private industry.
Cochran made it clear that the borough would not be building homes. If its housing, private industry should do it, he said.
Andy Beirely, who went to school at the mission, said there is an underground creek that runs through the property, and soft spots that would have to be dug up and filled with boulders. He said they should buy it, but try to get a lower price.
John Garland, who leases the land for his RV park, cautioned going any lower, since the asking price is already below the boroughs appraisal.
Last to speak was John Harris, who said the borough has to pay or sell any property at fair market value.
Lots of things could go on it, he said, urging them to buy the large tract. Thats the last one.
Troubled bridge over Taiya water
By ANDREW CREMATA
Officials from the Alaska Department of Transportation visited the Skagway Fire Department on Tuesday to assess whether emergency vehicles could cross the Taiya River Bridge. The recent derating of the bridge by DOT left the department wondering if emergency vehicles would be restricted from crossing the bridge, even in the case of fire.
At the Nov. 5 Dyea Advisory Board meeting, member Wayne Greenstreet explained the bridge could face further derating from its current 5-ton per axle capacity. The bridge was re-inspected by DOT this past summer. If it is further derated below 3 tons per axle, the bridge could not be operated on.
Greenstreet said there are two separate designations for weight limits on the bridge: inventory and operating weights. The inventory rate is the lowest estimate for weight capacities; operating weight is the total weight that the bridge can sustain safely.
Greenstreet said currently Engine 26, the small fire truck, and ambulances can travel over the bridge under the inventory rate, but the larger engine would possibly require a special permit for passage, if its total weight is under the operating weight.
Fire Chief Mark Kirko said via telephone it is still not known whether the large fire truck will qualify for the permit. If the bridge is derated further, it could possibly affect travel over the bridge by other emergency response vehicles.
The results of DOT inspections are still unknown, so future use of the bridge by heavy vehicles remains uncertain.
Well have to wait and see, said Kirko.
Whether DOT plans to build a new bridge also remains unclear, but the municipality has passed a resolution supporting funding in the governors upcoming budget for repair or replacement of the bridge (see borough digest).
Currently, there are few answers as to how to handle emergency response in the Dyea area if the bridge is further derated. SFD has mapped out a tentative plan, but it is on hold until they get final word from the state and municipality.
I dont know what were going to do, said Greenstreet. Nobody has any idea.
Workers for Dawson Construction unload trusses for the new Rasmuson Health Center, which is going up fast at 14th and State. JB
BOROUGH New face for clinic; Shelly Moss hired as new admin.
As the walls, beams and trusses of Skagways new Rasmuson Community Health Center are starting to take the shape of a real structure, the human face of its future has also been decided. Skagway resident Michelle (Shelly) Moss will usher in a new era of local health care as the transition is made from the Dahl Memorial Clinic to the new facility.
At the clinic board meeting on Oct. 30, the decision was made to enter into contract negotiations with Moss, who has been employed at the Skagway Fire Department as an administrator and emergency responder / coordinator.
Ten applications were received by the board, which were then whittled down to two over the past couple months. The other finalist for the job lives in Seattle and withdrew the application for family reasons, said Borough Manager Alan Sorum.
At the August 7 Borough Assembly meeting, when it was announced that former adminstrator Glennette Christians contract would not be renewed, Sorum recommended an increase in salary for the Clinic Administrator position from $61,000 per year to between $80,000 and $90,000. Sorum said the increase would lure top candidates with experience writing federal grants.
The assembly settled on offering a starting wage of $72,000 per year or higher, depending on the qualifications of the prospective hire.
Sorum said by telephone on Nov. 10 that contract negotiations were complete, and Moss had agreed to a one-year contract at the starting salary of $72,000.
Sorum cited Mosss extensive financial background as an asset for the clinic. He said she also had some clinic experience. He said Moss also had some experience with grant writing, but added, That position is not as important as interim administrator Karen Higgs currently is handling the federal 330 grants.
Sorum said Moss would eventually take over more of the grant writing, but not before getting a handle on the new job. First things first, he said.
Shelly is a good candidate for the community, added Sorum. She is a long-term resident and familiar with Skagway.
At the clinic board meeting Moss was asked by board member Dottie Demark why she wanted the job.
Moss responded, I think its a really exciting time for the clinic, adding there were many changes coming as the clinic expands services and moves into a new facility.
I think I would be excellent at being on the front line.
Moss will finish out her tenure at the fire department and begin her new job at the clinic later this month. AC
BOROUGH C.I.P. resolutions pass
The Skagway Borough Assembly on Nov. 6 approved three resolutions aimed at obtaining state money from various sources for three major capital improvement projects:
$4 million for the partial penetrating wave barrier breakwater as the communitys priority project from the legislatures capital program budget. This would be coupled with a $500,000 grant already approved by the Denali Commission. It states the project is needed to protect inner harbor facilities and future investments to renovate the small boat harbor.
$5 million for improvements to the wastewater treatment plant as the communitys priority project for funding from the states regional commercial passenger vessel excise tax impact fund. The resolution states that it must address Environmental Protection Agency concerns and wishes to pursue retrofit of its treatment facility with installation of a membrane bioreactor system that will solve regulatory issues. As justification for use of cruise tax money, the resolution states that the primary load on the facility is caused by the influx of summer cruise ship visitors.
Whatever steps are necessary to repair or replace the Taiya River Bridge, with funding in the administrations FY 2010 budget. The states recent derating of the load capacity has impacted emergency first responders, construction equipment, commercial tour operators, and access to National Park Service facilities and infrastructure.
Votes on all resolutions were unanimous. All members were present. JB
SCHOOL Final count: 94.55
At the Oct. 28 Skagway School Board meeting, Superintendent Michael Dickens reported that the final pupil count for the district would be 94.55, the lowest in many years.
Dr. Dickens said the figure is more than five percent below the estimate of 102 students used to build the budget last spring. This kicks in a state hold harmless protection clause, which allows the district to average out its budget losses over a couple of years, so the hit is not so hard in the current year.
He said the district should have actual financial numbers from the state to present to the board at its next meeting on Nov. 18.
The district did receive notice from the municipality that forest receipts this year for the rainy day account would total $51,612. Dickens said he had heard a higher figure last summer, and wondered why it was lower. The funds come from a portion of federal Tongass National Forest receipts, and are passed on to the state and down to Southeast municipalities for school districts. JB
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
POLL WATCHERS Third and fourth grade students visited the polling place at Skagway City Hall Nov. 4 and watched teacher Mary McCaffrey cast her ballot in the AccuVote scanner. See more photos in our Skagway Voting Gallery. Photo by Jeff Brady
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