Two people are dead and three people have been transported to hospital following a train that derailed near Woss Thursday morning.
RCMP confirmed late Thursday afternoon the derailment occurred around 8:45 a.m., and acknowledged the “significant efforts” by first responders to deal with those trapped.
Western Forest Products officials confirmed the train had WFP personnel aboard.
“We are co-operating fully with all authorities and will continue to do so,” said WFP spokesperson Amy Spencer who could not confirm the number of WFP personnel involved.
The Woss representative on the Regional District of Mount Waddington’s board of directors provided some details to Black Press Thursday afternoon, including a personal story.
Dave Rushton, a retired logger who represents Woss regional district board, told Black Press an unknown number of cars loaded with logs left track after breaking free from cable and running away downhill. He said a ‘speeder’ rail car carrying three crew was struck and the occupants pinned inside. First responders were Western Forest Products crews, who used machines and saws to try to clear logs and get to trapped workers, said Rushton.
“There’s been quite a call-out,” said Rushton. “We had Port McNeill (fire rescue), the regional district, and Orca Sand and Gravel sent their guys.”
The Orca mine is just north of Port McNeill and has its own trained rescue crew.
“A load of logs dropped right over the speeder,” said Rushton, who said another worker nearby was also struck by a log. “The crews were in there trying to buck ‘em out.”
“It’s been a terrible morning for us, because we were told all morning that Lucas (Rushton, his grandson) was one of them. He was going to be there, but we found out that at the last minute this morning another guy called in sick, and Luke was sent to work with another section crew. He texted us that he was at Beaver Cove (at the other end of the rail line).”
“Somehow, the cars got away. There’s a derail ramp that’s meant for this, and that’s happened a number of times over the years where the cars are sent up the derail. I’ve seen ‘em hit the derail and tip over, but something like this hasn’t happened in my 50 years here.”
According to reports, the last person was pulled from the wreckage around 3 p.m. and airlifted to hospital. Ambulances who attended the scene had to drive in from various North Island locations.
The Village of Woss – located in the Nimpkish Valley, about 75km southeast of Port McNeill – is planning a community gathering Thursday evening at the hall for the community.
RCMP Island District General Investigation Section is investigating with partners including the Coroners Service, Transportation Safety Board and Worksafe BC; RCMP Victim Services are also on scene.
According to Wikipedia, the Englewood Railway is headquartered in Woss and the line runs 90 km (56 mi) from Vernon Lake, through Woss, past Nimpkish Lake Provincial Park to Beaver Cove. It is the last operating logging railroad in North America.
Police noted the cause of the derailment remains under investigation.
Here’s an unedited statement from Don Demens, President & Chief Executive Officer, Western Forest Products, received by Black Press at 6:34 p.m.:
“We are saddened about the tragic incident on the rail line in Woss, BC this morning.
At this time, we express our deepest concern and condolences to the families, friends, and co-workers of those whose lives were lost this morning and who are injured. Our hearts and minds are with them.
The safety and security of our staff and the communities where we work are paramount. We are cooperating fully with all authorities and will continue to do so.
I would like to thank the numerous rescue personnel who have stepped up to assist. On behalf of our staff, friends and families, thank you for your thoughts and words of support in these difficult circumstance – they are deeply appreciated. We humbly ask others to respect the privacy of families and staff at this time.”
We will provide updates as information becomes available.”
— With files from Black Press Island news team