Via Rail locomotive engineers Don Blain and Kevin Lihou, both members of the BLE, were killed in a wreck near Thamesville, Ontario, Quebec, on April 23, 1999. Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) concluded in their post-accident analysis that lightning-fast thinking by Blaine and Lihou probably saved dozens of lives, even though they themselves faced impending death. A track switch had been left in the wrong position and had put two passenger trains on a collision course. Blain and Lihou were in the cab of Toronto-bound Train No. 74 when they realized Windsor-bound Train No. 71 was coming towards them on the same line and where the switch was in the wrong position. The two men radioed a frantic warning to the crew of Train No. 71 and immediately slammed on their brakes and shut down their locomotive’s engine to reduce the risk of explosion.
There were 180 passengers on Train No. 74 when it crashed into four stationary rail cars containing ammonium nitrate. Blaine and Lihou were both killed and 77 people were injured. “The quick actions of the two crew members in the Via train’s locomotive probably saved many lives. With just seconds to act, the crew members radioed a warning to another passenger train approaching from the other direction. Canadians owe these men a lot of gratitude. Their actions helped avoid potential death and/or injury to almost 300 people on the two trains,” said Benoit Bouchard, Chairman of the TSB.
Engineer Don Blain, 45 years old at the time of his death, was a member of BLE Division 747 in Mimico, Ontario. Had been a member for 15 years. Engineer Kevin Lihou, 33 years old at the time of his death, had just recently joined the BLE and was a member of BLE Division 747. Blain had 25 years of railroad experience while Lihou had 12. On May 29, 1999, all VIA Rail trains across Canada stopped for one minute and sounded their whistles in memory of Don Blain and Kevin Lihou. In 2001, both men were posthumously awarded Meritorious Service Medals from the Governor General of Canada.