SD60F 5554 "argues" with an automobile at Lebrun Street in Montreal on
October 17, 1990, in an Operation Lifesaver staged collision.
Photo by Ray Farand.
Two years have elapsed since readers of Branchline were introduced to
Operation Lifesaver's inauguration of National Awareness Day (see
December 1988 issue). On that occasion I had the pleasure of being
present at the official ceremony held at Walkley Yard in Ottawa. On
hand was an impressive list of guest speakers, including among others
Roger Cyr, the National Director of Operation Lifesaver. Befitting such
a special occasion was a "special train" assembled jointly by Canadian
National, CP Rail, and VIA Rail. The train comprised a locomotive from
each company, with an "Official" car from CN and CP (Number 91 and
"Wentworth" respectively), and a coach from VIA.
For those of you who take note of such things, this was the first time
that a power lashup of this nature had ever been assembled. One could
not help but ask if this would ever happen again. The answer finally
came two years later, on October 17, 1990, deep within the east-end of
the City of Montreal, at mile 5.92 of Canadian National's Longue-Pointe
spur. It was here that Operation Lifesaver would celebrate its tenth
year of existence by deliberately slamming a locomotive into a car at
the Lebrun Street grade crossing. The event was intended to demonstrate
to the general public what happens when a train collides with a car.
Upon arriving at the site by chartered bus, having departed from CP
Rail's downtown Windsor Station at approximately 10:45, I, along with
the Features Editor Dave Stremes, quickly became aware of the presence
of not one locomotive, but three full-width cowl carbody units. On the
point was CN SD60F 5554, followed by CP SD40-2F 9017, and last but not
least VIA F40PH-2 6448. Trailing the impressive consist were three CN
50-foot plug door box cars, presumably along to enhance braking
capability. Strategically placed in the middle of the grade crossing
ahead of the train was a late model Dodge Colt compact car. A large
crowd of curious on-lookers lined either side of the right-of-way along
Dubuisson and Souligny streets.
To suggest that this wasn't intended to be a large scale media event
would be an understatement. By design, a substantial corp of reporters
and video recording technicians were on hand to capture the event.
Operation Lifesaver officials are very much aware of the fact that few
people in real life ever witness an accident of this nature. Their hope
is that once people actually see the results of such a collision
through television and film coverage, that the impression will have
enough of an imp stay with them and perhaps influence their future
One need only look at the statistics to see that there is still much
room for improvement. In 1989 there were a total of 467 grade crossing
accidents in Canada, resulting in 283 injuries and 86 fatalities.
Projections based on statistics for the first nine months of 1990
suggest that this year there will be 384 accidents, resulting in 183
injuries and 45 fatalities. That will be a total of approximately 851
occurrences in the last two years, if projections hold true to the end
of December. National Awareness Day notwithstanding, it is clear that
many people are still taking unnecessary chances with trains, and
paying dearly for their poor judgement.
The news, however, is not entirely bad. Last year's total of 467
accidents is substantially less that the 826 recorded in 1980, the year
before the organization began the task of educating the public on the
dangers of level crossings in Canada. This continues a trend that has
seen a progressive drop in such occurrences during the last ten
years. Without a doubt, public education campaigns are
producing positive results.
Following a brief news conference convened by National Director Roger
Cyr, with guestspeakers Bob Ballantyne, President of the Railway
Association of Canada, and Jean Corbeil, federal Minister of State for
Transport, the action heated up and a well organized event turned into
a real "bash". With everyone in position, the signal was given and a
diesel horn sounded in the distance. Moments later, the behemoths from
GMDD in London, Ontario, could be heard throttling up to the
permissable impact speed of 15 m.p.h. As the train approached, numerous
short staccato blasts of the air horn could be heard sounding out a
warning. The impact was inevitable, however, and as the crowd groaned,
and shutters clicked, the now shattered car was pushed ahead of the
locomotive, kicking up ballast and dust in the process.
It was all over in a matter of moments. Within two hundred feet of the
crossing the train came to a stop with the vehicle bent around the
locomotive's pilot. Even though the train had been travelling at low
speed, damage to the vehicle was extensive, and Operation Lifesaver had
undoubtedly made its point once again, that when it concerns grade
crossings, "Trains Can't Stop".
Branchline, December 1990, page 10.