Saving Lives the United Way

Plenty of Power.  9,000 horsepower from three railways is more than ample to power the three-car Operation Lifesaver special train towards Walkley Yard in Ottawa on September 12, 1988.  Photo by Ray Farand.  This is a colour image in substitution for the black and white image used in the original article. It was taken near M&O Junction.

There was  a time not that many years ago travellers passing through Ottawa's main issenger terminal  referred to it as Ottawa Union Station. The term  "Union"  imparted a pirit of co-operation between the railway giants of the day and the government that has its seat of power only footsteps up the hill along Wellington Street.

Today, Ottawa Union Station is but a memory for a generation that has seen Canadian railways slip from their place of prominence in the public eye to become what most perceive to be simply a drain on the public purse. Along with a new terminal location for the capital's gateway came an abbreviated title, simply Ottawa Station. Though it is still a jointly operated facility in many respects, occasions when one can literally see and feel the spirit of cooperation between today's major railway players are not often forthcoming.

One of these unique opportunities presented itself on September 12, 1988 when .Ottawa Station truly became a "Union" station if only for a few hours. The occasion was the .inauguration of Operation Lifesaver's National Awareness Day. This timely event re-dedicated the commitment of Transport Canada, the Railway Association of Canada, the Canada Safety Council, Canadian National Railways, CP Rail, VIA Rail Canada Inc., and law enforcement agencies all across the country, to a common goal, that being to reduce the number of deaths and injuries that occur at rail/highway level crossings.

Though the official ceremony was to be held at the east end of CN's Walkley Yard near Conroy Road, the station was used as a staging area to assemble a special train that would take officials and guests to the main site. The news media was also in attendance and it was their task to get the message out to the Canadian public that rail/highway crossings are to be respected and approached with caution.

The list of speakers on hand to host the event included Operation Lifesaver's National Director and the day's Master of Ceremonies, Roger Cyr, Transport Minister Benoit Bouchard, and R.S. Allison, Chairman of the Railway Association of Canada, and Chief Executive Officer of CP Rail. In addition to other notable officials such as Denis de Belleval, President of VIA Rail Canada Inc., and John Kelsall, Canadian National's Vice-Presldent of Operations, one could not help but be impressed by the support directed towards the program by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Police Chiefs, or representatives from the police forces of almost all of the municipalities of Ottawa-Carleton and West Quebec, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, Quebec Police Force, and the railways' own police forces were on hand. Some, including Ottawa's Chief of Police Arthur Rice, were in full dress attire.

To take this distinguished entourage from Ottawa Station to the site of the inauguration ceremony, a special move was set up using locomotives, passenger and business cars supplied by Canadian National, CP Rail and VIA Rail. The special train was comprised of a pair of resplendent SD40-2's, CN 5244 and CP 5934, both freshly painted, and immaculate VIA F40PH-2 6412, CN Business Car No. 91, VIA coach 5650, and bringing up the markers, CP Rail's Official Car "Wentworth". Those of you who are historically minded will recall that the "Wentworth" was temporarily assigned to the Royal Train of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth back in 1939. Tipping the scales at nearly 100 tons, this 1926 product of CP's Angus Shops was a splendid choice for a tail end car. Under the bright September sun, the train was nothing short of spectacular in appearance with its "Kodachrome" blend of colours.

Shortly after 10:00, the Special eased out of the stub track at the east end of Ottawa Station and proceeded slowly towards Walkley Yard via the Alexandria Subdivision and the Walkley Line. The schedule called for the move to take approximately one-half hour, enough time for the news media to view an audio-visual display designed to inform the public about Operation Lifesaver's primary goals and to demonstrate the impact that the program has had since its inception in 1981.
Statistics indicate that Operation Lifesaver has helped significantly to reduce the incidence of level crossing accidents in Canada. The total number of accidents at the 27,000 public rail/highway level crossings in Canada has fallen from 826, recorded in 1980, to 458 in 1987 - a 45% decrease. During the same period of time, injuries dropped 37% and fatalities were down 40%.

Impressive results such as these do not come cheap. Since 1980, Transport Canada has been providing an annual grant for the program and plans are for the federal government to spend a further $100,000 in each of the fiscal years 1987/88, 1988/89 and 1989/90. The Railway Association has agreed to provide matching funds for the same period. The result of these worthwhile expenditures will be continued public safety awareness education and modernization of level crossing protection across the country.

At Walkley Yard, everyone made their way to a temporary sheltered area to listen to the keynote speakers, Messrs. Cyr, Allison, Rice, and the Honorable Minister Bouchard who formally closed out the ceremony. The remaining time was devoted to the news media who conducted personal interviews with the organizers. It is somewhat ironic to note that during this period of time, as the special train prepared for departure, the Conroy Road crossing circuit was activated, setting off the bell and warning lights. Despite the presence of the nearby train, motorists continued to cross the tracks, many of them barely taking the time to slow down and look both ways. Obviously more work remains to be done, with driver education at the top of the priority list.

Shortly after 11:30, everyone re-boarded the train for the return trip to Ottawa Station. The train backed down the Walkley Line and east onto the Alexandria Sub before it proceeded on the final leg of the trip back to "Union". If one word can be used to sum up the entire affair, it would have to be "class". It was truly a class act from start to finish, and the participants have to be commended for their efforts at getting the message out to Canadians. When it concerns grade crossings, "Trains Can't Stop".


Upon arrival back at the station, everyone said their final goodbyes and went their separate ways except for a pair of "train buffs", excuse me, BRS reporters (yours truly and the Features Editor, Dave Stremes). As we said our goodbyes, Dave was approached by a senior Ottawa Police official, who wanted to know if he was a photographer hired by the railway! After explaining that he was not, and that the camera had slide film in it, Dave was still asked if he would mind taking a few pictures of Ottawa Police officials, including Chief Rice, as well as Roger Cyr, and J. Mel Beaupre of the Railway Association of Canada. After being assured that the Ottawa Police Photo Lab would handle any photographic work necessary, the group assembled on the rear platform of CP 5934 for their photo.

After saying our goodbyes, we had to hang around to see the last moves of the day completed in the yard on the south side of the station. There's something to be said for those who persist in being the last ones to leave a good party, though party may not be the appropriate term in this case. As our last unofficial act of the day, we were granted a tour of the "Wentworth" by a very obliging Business Car Attendant, Norman Virgoe.

While we were admiring the overwhelming elegance of the car's interior, VIA 6412 had been uncoupled from the two SD40-2s and then nosed up to the "A" end of the private car. Shortly after that I realized we were about to be treated to an unexpected ride around the M&O wye. To try and explain to you what it felt like to be sitting on a plush sofa gazing out the door onto the balcony of an honest to goodness business car (Car No. 27 notwithstanding, besides it doesn't have a sofa), all the while trying to take a picture of the big yellow nose of a new VIA locomotive and at the same time eat a leftover muffin without dropping any crumbs on the carpet, is almost beyond description. Ah-h-h, railfan heaven. To quote a popular television commercial, "It just doesn't get any better than this!!"

Bytown Railway Society,  Branchline, December 1988, page 9.

Home    Circle    Articles