State Fines Tiny Town $30,500 In Train Accident

Labor Agency: 15 Passengers Hurt Because Untrained Engineer Was Speeding

State officials have fined Tiny Town $30,500 after investigators found a volunteer was driving a miniature train as much as five times its normal speed limit when it derailed, injuring 15 people on Aug. 11.

The Department of Labor & Employment investigation said while the train was initially reported as a derailment, the investigation concluded that the accident was actually a lay-over, meaning the train tipped over on its side. The train engine and five train cars tipped over. The sixth car, a caboose, remained upright and on the track, according to the report.

Witnesses said the locomotive entered a curve at the park going between 12 and 17 mph, while the normal speed limit for trains was 3 mph to 4 mph, according to the investigation.

Train engineer Richard Messer told investigators he knew he needed to slow down for an upcoming curve. He said he thought he hit the engine brakes and rather than stopping, the train started to speed up. Messer said he panicked and kept pushing the controls in the wrong direction.

Messer told investigators he was a volunteer and this was his second season operating a train and his first season operating the steam locomotive #10. He said he was trained one day a week over a one-month period and that he had operated the #10 about 30 times around the track. Inspector Ewald reviewed the training records provided by Tiny Town and found that the records did not document that Messer had received training to operate any steam locomotive. Tiny Town's head engineer and general manager told investigators the Messer was trained, but the paperwork was not updated.

The section of track where the accident occurred is a newer section of track installed in 2008. The report said no obstructions were found on the train tracks and there were no marks to indicate that any of the wheels and axels locked up.

The investigation concluded the accident was caused by operator error. Contributing factors were lack of adequate training and the absence of labels on all of the controls, the report said.

None of the controls on the train were labeled, the investigator. He pointed out in the report that at the time of the locomotive’s manufacture in 1992, there wasn’t a requirement that controls be labeled. The requirement that all controls be labeled in English was first issued in 2003.

"Tiny Town allowed an untrained person to operate the No. 10 steam locomotive on thirty ride cycles," Susan DeMeules, program manager for the agency's Oil and Safety Division, wrote in the report. "OPS is assessing a fine of $30,000 ($1,000 per occasion)."

OPS also fined Tiny Town $500 for not having documented training of emergency and safety procedures.

To start running the trains again, Tiny Town must pay $30,500, submit procedures to ensure that ride operators have received adequate training, locomotives and cars must be certified safe by a third party and levers on all of the locomotives must be clearly marked.

7NEWS contacted a manager at Tiny Town and was told no one would be commenting until the owners had a chance to read through all of the documents.