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HomeBusinessExclusive: Vancouver Park Board officials concealed Stanley Park train derailment on Easter Weekend

Exclusive: Vancouver Park Board officials concealed Stanley Park train derailment on Easter Weekend

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Bob Mackin

Publicly, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation blamed a “minor incident” for a one-day cancellation of the Stanley Park Railway’s Easter Train. 

But, internal messages obtained under the freedom of information law said what happened on March 29 was serious. Almost a month later, the board says it cost taxpayers $25,000.

Stanley Park Green locomotive (Hedgehog Technologies/Park Board/FOI)

“Looks like a major mishap (derailment) for the train happened as they were transporting it back to the barn after the day was over,” said a text message from John Brodie, acting director of business services, to general manager Steve Jackson at 5:52 p.m. on Good Friday. “Damaged tracks, damaged train, and [train operations lead] Rose [Yip] thinks we’ll likely need to cancel the remainder of the weekend. Kind of worst case scenario for the train.”

Ten minutes later, Brodie emailed the communications department to report “there was a derailment.”

At 9:59 p.m., the Park Board’s account on X, formerly Twitter, said the train would not operate March 30, “due to track damage sustained Friday evening.” It did not mention the word derailment. Refunds were offered, but the board hoped to resume service on Easter Sunday.  

At 6:38 a.m. the next morning, the board’s longer media statement cited a “minor incident on Friday evening causing damage to a section of track.” No employees were injured and visitors were not on-site. The statement also omitted the word derailment.

Jackson told Park Board officials at 8:39 p.m. that repairs were successfully completed in the morning and a decision was expected after the scheduled Technical Safety B.C. (TSBC) inspection at 7 a.m. on Easter Sunday. 

“Staff are planning to make a definitive communication on the reopening by 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning via direct contact through the ticketing provider and via our social media channels,” Jackson wrote.

Text message to the Park Board general manager on March 29 (Park Board/FOI)

TSBC gave the go-ahead to resurrect the special holiday service. However, the disabled-accessible carriage was removed from service because it was involved in the derailment. Jackson said it required further testing before it could be cleared for return to operation. 

“This work will be prioritized upon the end of the Easter event’s run,” Jackson wrote. “Staff have made contact with each of the families impacted and have made arrangements to make up for the disappointment caused through accommodations at a future event at the train.”

When contacted by a reporter, Jackson refused to comment on why the Park Board was not forthright about the derailment. Instead, marketing and communications specialist Megan Kaptein said “we considered the derailment a minor incident.” 

The price tag was not minor. Kaptein said the Park Board incurred $25,000 in costs. 

The Park Board’s aversion to telling the public it was a derailment echoed the May 30, 2022 SkyTrain incident near Scott Road station. Two cars from a four-car Mark II SkyTrain derailed, disrupting Surrey service for 24 hours. But TransLink downplayed the severity, calling the matter a “track issue” and then a “stalled train” before settling on the phrase “partially dislodged.”

“Given only one part of the train was dislodged from the track, it was more appropriate to refer to the incident as a partial dislodgment,” said TransLink spokesperson Tina Lovegreen. 

However, the internal investigation report in September 2022 referred to it as a derailment and the word appeared in the title: “Derailment Investigation at Switch DC 47.”

The Stanley Park Railway fell into disrepair during the pandemic. The Hallowe’en and Christmas events were cancelled in 2022 due to broken or worn out locomotives, carriages and tracks. It returned before last Christmas. Tickets sold out in 90 minutes. 

TSBC’s certificate of inspection from Nov. 27, 2023 said the Green locomotive (unit A7739) was repaired, reinspected and approved for public operations. Three other locomotives did not pass inspection. One of them had excessive oil leaking on the brake lining and another was suffering overheating and radiator issues. Five passenger cars were approved for public operations, but minor track ballast and gauge repairs remained. 

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