On The Rails of Northern British Columbia's History
Kenneth Scott Bateman - CNR Engineer
The Train Wreck of 1978
In North Central British Columbia, Canada
Two Dead in Train Mishap - by Brian Gregg
Two men are missing and presumed dead after a CNR work train derailed three mile west of Usk at 3:30am on Thursday. Terry Chupa and Fred Theriault, both of Smithers, were treated and later released from Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. The train was travelling east to pick up some men and spread ballast and fill in several sections of the CNR line when the first engine apparently went off the tracks after the train had stopped at the washout, a CNR employee told the Herald. The two engineers had apparently got out of the engine to assess the damage. One of the two crewmen in the caboose also got out of the train.
One of the engineers decided to get back into the train to try to back it up and get it back on the tracks. The embankment along the Skeena River suddenly gave way, taking the train and the two men inside with it. Chupa and Theriault escaped with only minor injuries. The two men were picked up by CNR crews from Usk shortly after the derailment. They were brought across the river on the Department of Highways cable car system and then driven to Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. The rail disaster occurred two years to the day after another train travelling east with four crewman derailed one mile east of Usk. That derailment occurred Nov 2, 1976. There were no fatalities in that incident.
Divers made two futile efforts to search for the bodies but were unable to find any sign of the missing men because the river was too high and was moving too fast. All available crews in the area are working at the derailment site. There are 10 other washout along the CNR line between Terrace and Kitwanga, the junction to the Stewart Highway, a CNR employee said. A group of CNR officials were flown into Terrace by helicopter from Prince George and Edmonton.
November 2, 1978
No official statement has been made by the railway. A CNR employee said it would take a week to get the line open at the wreckage site. Work crews are expected to move west from Prince George, repairing each washout before they move onto the next one. Crews are also expected to be working on washouts on the Prince Rupert line and the Kitamat line today and those lines should be repaired in two or three days, a CNR employee said. Meanwhile, CNR officials are concentrating their efforts on searching for the bodies of the two missing men. Helicopters are patrolling the area as the Skeena River appears to be rising again. One employee says there does not seem to be any men in the units.
Yes, it has been over thirty years since this storm in November of 1978 but, somehow it only feels like yesterday. There are many things I would have said to my father if he had not left so soon. Please enjoy this website and it will always continue to grow. There will be a Forum designed soon so everyone can have their say about what happened thirty years ago or today. Yes, lots has changed about railway transportation since this happened but there will be locomotives, cars, and rails for many years to come.
Where did nature push the train into the Skeena River?
Please click on the map to see more
Smithers Railway Station
Of Lives Lost
The wind blew raging through the hills
Down the valleys in a storm
With danger on the roads and on the tracks
Most of us were safe and warm
Your men rode the steel that night
In spite of all the rain
In spite of all the obvious signs
Two would not come back again
It happened quickly the way it does
Whenever there is a slide
It isn't there and then it is
No time to escape - so they tried
Minutes later the worst seemed past
All were alive and well
None could have imagined at the time
The upcoming living and dying hell
While two men went to get some equipment
To save what was left of their train
The other two men remained unsuspecting
Fate would strike again
The first two men turned to see the train
The other two men felt their fear
The first two stood by horrified
To see the remains of the train and two friends disappear
Four men rode the steel that night
But, only two are left
Fate rang out a double dose
And took two of the best