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Rollovers continue at the Wreckhouse

A rollover of a transport trailer at the Wreckhouse in March 2022. – © File photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WRECKHOUSE — Residing in Newfoundland and Labrador, individuals are used to seeing Wreckhouse wind warnings in effect when checking their weather forecasts. However, the significant dangers when travelling through the Wreckhouse can be lost on many who don’t understand the severity with which winds funnel through the mountains, building up pressure as they are squeezed through gulches in the rocks. The winds, which have been recorded as high as 200 km/h in the past, have proved to be destructive to small and large vehicles alike, with numerous transport truck rollovers happening every year. Currently, there are two signage locations warning travelers of wind warnings currently in effect: at the tourist chalet sign in Port aux Basques and at the Chignic Lodge, 12.2 km east of Doyles intersection with the Trans-Canada Highway. These signs are designed to display messages when wind gusts exceed 80 km/h, advising truck drivers to pull over, and when wind gusts exceed 100 km/h, advising all traffic to pull over. The Newfoundland Railway, which operated through the Wreckhouse from 1898 to 1988, also suffered from railway cars being blown off the track by the hurricane force winds. With the Wreckhouse being known historically for the force of the winds being capable of blowing vehicles completely off the road, concerns remain that enough isn’t being done to ensure the safety of drivers, especially those from out-of-province who aren’t familiar with the significant dangers the area poses. Frank Aucoin, a resident of Codroy Valley, has been working tirelessly toward increasing education and awareness for travelers going through the Wreckhouse, contacting government departments, first responders, and trucking companies, trying to find a solution that will result in fewer rollovers and avoid more serious accidents in the future. “Since transports have been on the road, there have been at least 30 or so (rollovers) every year, maybe more, and this has been going on since they’ve been driving transports across and it is continuing to happen,” explained Aucoin. “The federal and provincial government put up the sign by Chignic Lodge 25 or 30 years ago to try and inform the truck drivers of the high winds in the wreckhouse and advise them to pull over after a certain speed. As soon as Marine Atlantic decides to shut down and not go across, the companies (like Armour, Midland etc.) are advising their truckers to pull over immediately and not proceed through the Wreckhouse area. It appears to me that most of the drivers that are blowing away, and the majority of the time they are going into Port aux Basques, are independent drivers who are probably going through Newfoundland for the first time and many may not read the signs. Last year there was probably 30 or so that blew over and this year is going to be the same if we don’t try to curb it somehow.” Armour Transport, as is the case with other trucking companies, understands the Wreckhouse is an area of significant concern, and trucks are pulled off the road when high winds are present, as well as during other inclement weather that would result in safety concerns for their drivers. In response to email inquiries, the RCMP offered the following statement in regard to accidents they’ve responded to in the Wreckhouse area between 2021 and 2022. “Over a two year period, from 2021-2022, Channel-Port aux Basques RCMP responded to 22 traffic-related crashes in the Wreckhouse area. Thirteen of those occurred in 2021 and the remaining 9 occurred in 2022. Weather played a factor in the majority of the traffic incidents, 21 of the 22 (95 per cent) incidents were weather related (i.e. high winds, windy, snow), 16 of the 22 (73 per cent) involved transport trucks. The remaining incidents involved automobiles and or automobiles that were towing utility trailers. “Fourteen of the sixteen transport truck incidents involved the truck rolling/tipping over due to bad weather in the area.” Throughout his investigation, Aucoin has spoken with the RCMP, Department of Motor Vehicle Registration, Highway Enforcement, the fire department, Department of Highways, and numerous MHA’s. “They are all aware of what I’m trying to accomplish, which is that we should be able to cut back the number of drivers that are blowing away. We also need to get the truckers association to get the truckers themselves to have a buddy system going or something, where if they know of an independent driver, they should be able to reach out to the driver to inform them upon arriving in Newfoundland,” said Aucoin. “On the ferry across, they should be able to ask, ‘are you an independent driver, are you with Midland, are you with Armour,’ and make them aware of the dangers of driving through the Wreckhouse. That’s an area I haven’t pursued but I will be discussing it with Marine Atlantic, the possibility of getting the education going on the boat as they’re going along, because they have a captive audience. Maybe a little education would help.” Aucoin believes that enhanced communication between all departments involved in the safe passage of drivers across the Wreckhouse, would go a long way in ensuring the safety of those traveling. “A bit of communication to find out the common denominator in these accidents that have been happening every year for the past few years. Is it stupidity? Is it taking a chance on making it through? What is the common denominator? Talking to a couple of truckers and the RCMP, it does seem that getting to the boat and being the first in line is one of them, but the others I am still researching.” Aucoin said, in his research, numerous departments have stated that they don’t have the resources or manpower to stop people from traversing through the Wreckhouse during high winds. “When the accident occurs, they have to be there to recover the rig, so they have the resources after the fact, so they should have it before the fact. It should be proactive instead of reactive. Try to avoid accidents and the potential dangers to the drivers and other innocent people on the road,” said Aucoin. “So the bottom line is, something needs to be done before somebody gets killed, and I think it is something that will happen eventually.” MHA Scott Reid (St. Georges – Humber) said this is a concern that has been brought to his attention. “I’ve been having conversations with one resident in particular, and a few others as well, wondering if there is anything we can do to alert drivers more to the dangers that are there, and that’s something I take seriously and that I want to investigate a little more in terms of what the possibilities might be there, and how we can do that,” said Reid. “The nature of the problem, that is something I also want to be aware of. Like, how do the drivers find out about the windstorm areas, do they receive any advance notice from the companies that they work for, what their policies are in relation to wind, things like that.” Reid has been working on his end to get discussions going on what can be done. “I’ve talked to the Department of Transportation to see if there is a way we can have a stronger warning, or if there’s any way we can reach drivers to make sure they understand,” said Reid. “It’s one of the many issues I’m looking at getting more information about if I can.” At this point in time, until more information is obtained and more discussions are held, it isn’t clear what the plan forward will be. “I don’t know if there are truck companies that usually do most of the runs across, that could be a way of contacting people and educating people about the dangers that exist there. Maybe education on the ferry as people come across is another way to do that,” said Reid. “I know that the signage we have at Chignic Lodge and other areas inform people about the dangers as well.” Reid has plans moving forward of who he wants to speak with to get to the bottom of the issue. “What I want to do is talk to people who deal with these issues, like first responders, police officers, and see if they have any suggestions, if there is a better way to do this. I am open to having those conversations and looking at the possibilities. At this stage, I don’t know what the options might be,” said Reid. “The wind has always been severe in that area, from when the train went through there. The wind has always been dangerous in those areas, but I’m wondering if that’s getting worse. If there are more accidents now then there were in the past, those are some questions that I have and I don’t have the information or the answers to yet.”

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