The Westboro Wreck
By Michael Iveson.
Canadian Pacific Train No. 8, "The Dominion" was better than an hour-and-a-half "off the advertized" on January 20, 1951 when it crested the grade near the suburban Ottawa station of Westboro and struck a coal truck at the Chuchill Avenue crossing, just east of Westboro Station.
The truck driver and his helper, employees of the nearby Independent Coal and Lumber Company, were able to jump clear of their vehicle and were uninjured. The train and its crew were not so lucky.
Powered by Royal Hudson No. 2821, the "Dominion" was rolling along at better than 70 mph when the collision occured. Upon impact, the truck was thrown against a switchstand just at the crossing. The force of the blow opened the turnout, diverting the train into the siding of the Cummings Coal Company.
The engine was unable to negotiate the tight curvature of the siding. It derailed and ploughed down the track embankment on its side, coming to rest some 500 feet from where the Westboro transitway station is now located.
The wreckage also included a heavy weight baggage car, a 2200-series coach, a heavy weight diner, and a sleeper. The balance of the train stayed on the rails.
The train's Engineer, Albert Scharf, was trapped in the cab of the 2821, suffering fatal burns. His Fireman, Earl Fergus, miraculously survived, retiring from CP engine service a couple of years ago. In all, some 30 passengers and crew members were injured that day.
The 2821 was hauled out of the mud and snow and rebuilt. Ironically, it was involved in yet another collision - a cornfield meet with sister 2823 on the North Bay Subdivision. She was rebuilt after this incident, and was scrapped in December of 1959.
On a personal note, my mother and I had just waved at the crew of Number 8 as it had passed our home not two minutes before the accident. My father, who worked on Saturday morning in those days, was driving down Churchill Avenue and witnessed the accident. He was one of the first to reach the crew trapped in the cab.
I spent the next few days after the accident watching the equipment being rerailed. After its retrieval, the 2821 was stored on a siding at Westboro Station until it could be shipped to Montreal for repairs.
To this day, as I approach the intersection of Scott Street and Churchill Avenue, I still think of that awful wreck of January 21, 1951.
Bytown Railway Society,, Branchline,March 1987, page 6
From the Ottawa Citizen Monday 22 January 1951
Will Ask Stop Signs At CrossingEarl Fergus, 28-year-old CPR fireman injured in Saturday morning's train wreck at Westboro, continues to make a brave fight for life.
Civic Hospital authorities gave the Smiths Falls man a "better than 50-50 chance" for recovery, pointing out at the same time that his condition was still very critical from severe scalds to the head, neck and face.
Albert G. Scharf, of 206 Breezehill Avenue, engineer ol the ill-fated Dominion Flyer, died on admission to hospital shortly after the wreck occurred and some 35 others were injured.
A total of 27 persons were treated at Civic Hospital and four were still being detained on Sunday.
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Aldermen Howard Henry. Frank Boyce, and Ernest Jones said last night that in City Council, at its next meeting they will demand the erection of a warning signal at the crossing and the reduction of speed of trains in .the city limits.
Coroner Dr. Harry Dover told The Citizen on Sunday that an inquest would probably be held in connection with the death of Engineer Scharf, but that no date for the hearing had been set as yet.
While railway salvage crews worked during the weekend to clear away the wreckage and repair torn up tracks along the right-of-way, thousands of per-sons went to the scene of the crash.
The wreck occurred when the Dominion Flyer, running an hour and twenty minutes late and travelling at 60 miles an hour, plowed into an Independent Coal and Lumber Company truck which had stalled on the Churchill Avenue crossing.
Romeo Albert, 30-year-old driver of the truck, and his helper, James Davis, 21, leaped to safety only seconds before the speeding train sheared through their truck and sent it spinning life a leaf in a windstorm.
Some flying part of , the demolished truck split open a switch a few yards from the crossing to send the train swerving into the coal company's siding.
A moment later the engine, tender, baggage car and three passenger coaches left the rails to scream to a stop in a staggered, awesome tangle of wreckage.
Before toppling over onto its right side, the big engine cut loose from the rest of the train and plowed through the frozen earth in the north ditch for almost 100 feet.
Engine Crew Trapped
Scharf and Fergus were trapped in. their cab amidst the scalding steam of burst boiler tubing, and could not be released until city police cut an escape hole through the jammed left door of the cab.
When rescuers got inside the cab they found that Scharf's left arm was pinned in a tangle of twisted metal, and an accetylene torch had to be used to cut him looe.
CPR officials said yesterday that wrecking crews working continuously from a short, time after the crash, had traffic flowing over the line on a temporary basis by late Saturday night.
The badly wrecked coaches were lifted back onto the rails by huge railway cranes and towed into the CPR yards, but the work crews were still going all-out on Sunday repairing the torn-up road-bed and laying new track.
Yesterday afternoon the stripped, battered-looking locomotive still lay on its side where it had come to rest. Railwaymen said the engine was practically a total loss, and they planned to cut it in half before taking it in to the yard shops where it would be dismantled for salvageable metal and parts.
CPR officials said they hoped to have service over the main line restored to normal sometime today, although the work crews were being badly handicapped by the cold weather.
On Sunday all attempts by newspapermen to locate Romeo Albert, driver of the truck which caused the wreck, were unavailing. A visit to his home at Carlington brought only a statement from a memberof the family, "He is not here. We do not know where he is, and we do not know when he will be home."
A man who declined to give his name, and who told The Citizen on Saturday that he had witnessed the level crossing crash, said that Albert's truck had been proceeding along Churchill Avenue in a northerly direction towards the coal company's sheds. The truck was going slowly, he said. As the driver approached the crossing he apparently either saw or heard the oncoming train. He jammed on his brakes, but the truck skidded forward directly onto the tracks where it stalled.
The Citizen's informant said he saw the two men in the truck's cab leap out on cither side and run to get clear of the vehicle before the train crashed into it.
"They were just seconds away from death," he said. "They seemed to be having difficulty on the icy roadway, and I thought for a moment they would not get clear in time. But they made it."
All of the Montreal-bound passengers on the ill-fated transcontinental flyer, save those detained in hospital. went on to their destination by special train Saturday afternoon.
Still ShakenMany bore bandages and adhesive tape, mute evidence of the ordeal they had been through. and some were still shaken up by their experience as they boarded the special ' train at Union Station here.
In the meantime residents of the Westboro area were protesting over the speed at which trains travel through there, and were deploring the lack of proper level crossing warnings, One lady told The Citizen yesterday: "There have been a number of fatal accidents at the Churchill Avenue crowing in recent years,and most of us out I here feel there should be some sort of w arning ereected.
"The trains go through too fast, especially the incoming trans-continental trains. When they are late they are making up time while passing through and speeds of anywhere from 60 to 80 miles an hour are common place," she said.
"After all this is now the city of Ottawa, and such high speeds should be checked by the proper authorities," she concluded.
Ask Stop StreetsAld. Jones, of Westboro Ward, told The Citizen that he will ask City Council to make Churchill Avenue at Pacific a stop street.
"I have noticed trains whistling through the area at high rates of speed and it's about time something was done about it," said Ald.. Jones.
"It was in 1948," said Aid. Henry, "when I was on the Nepean Council we applied to the Transport Commissioners for a wig-wag signal at the Churchill crossing. The application was refused with a statement that the crossing was not dangerous and not busy enough for a warning signal."
Ald. Boyce also told The Citizen that he would back any proposal for a wig-wag signal at the crossing and that he would find out whether or not the speed of trains within the city limits could be reduced.
Wants Speed Reduced"If highway traffic travels at a speed of 35 miles per hour then trains passing through Woodroffe, Westboro and Ottawa West should travel at a less dangerous speed."
F. M. MacPhcrson, a member of the Board of Transport Commissioners, told The Citizen that there was no set speed limit within the city.
"Following the accident an automatic 25 mile per hour speed was placed on all trains," he added, "no train may pass the Churchill crossing at any greater speed."
Mr. MacPhcrson added that the 25 mile speed will be in effect at least until the investigation into the accident has been completed.
The Commissioner also said that if the Ottawa City Council wants a warning signal erected at the crossing a petition must be forwarded by them to the board.
High commendation was given the work of the St. John Ambulance and Red Cross who were on hand shortly after the crash occurred. An ambulance from No. 3 Division was rushed to the scene as well as trained nurses Those who were on the job most of the day were Mrs. Jean Stubbs, Miss Irene Bergen, superintendentt of the St. Gregory Nursing divisions. Howard Bergen, superintendent of No. 73 division and District Sgt. Maj. R. E. Jenkins
From the Ottawa Citizen 23 January 1951
Says CPR May Sue Truck Co.A spokesman of the company insuring the Independent Coal and Lumber Company said yesterday he had been notified by the CPR that the railway was contemplating bringing action against the lumber firm, holding it responsible for Saturday's train wreck.
It was an Independent truck which wjls stalled across the CPR track at the Churchill Avenue crossing Saturday morning and was hit by the eastbound trans-continental passenger train.
In Path Of TrainThe insurance spokesman said the railway had told htm it considered the truck was responsible since it did not strike the train but was indisputably stopped in the path of the train.
Furthermore, it was alleged that it was the truck which threw the switch, causing the derailment of the train and subsequent death of one man and injury to 27 others.
The Board of Transport Commissioners is conducting a routine inquiry into the accident. The CPR had no comment to make.
From the Ottawa Citizen 24 January 1951
Deny Report Local Firm Being Sued
Parties concerned in the Saturday morning train wreck at Westboro yesterday denied reports that the CPR was contemplating suing Independent Coal and Lumber Company, whose truck was struck by the train.
Roydon Hughes, KC, retained by the lumber firm, said CPR had not advised him of such action. Joseph Mahoney, secretary-treasurer of the firm said he had heard nothing of the proposed action and was not worried about it. He said if the train had not been going so fast the story would have been much different.
R. E. Hay, adjuster for the company insuring Independent said he had not been notified, and a Board of Transport Commissioners spokesman said several days were needed to complete its routine inquiry Into the crash.
From the Ottawa Journal Monday 14 May 1951
Railway Wreck Suits Settled
Sequel to the derailment of a. CPR passenger train at Churchill avenue, Westboro, on January 20, this year, in which Albert Scharf, engineer of the train was killed, a number of legal actions arising out of the crash have been settled, it was intimated in Ontario Supreme Court today
The CPR's transcontinental flyer was derailed when it crashed into a truck owned by the Independent Coal and Lumber Company which was stalled at the level crossing.
While principals in an action taken against the coal and lumber company by Mrs. Scharf over her husband's death declined to reveal the precise amount of the settlement she received, it was learned that it is in the vicinity of $18,000. O.F. Howe, KC, acted for Mrs. Scharf and T. N. Phelan. KC. of Toronto, for the Independent Coal and Lumber Company.
At Carleton County Courthouse this morning, Roydon A. Hughes. KC. counsel for the lumber company in an action taken against it by the Canadian Pacific Railway arising from the crash intimated that a settlement had been reached and that minutes of the agreement would be filed shortly.
The settlement covers both the action taken by the railway company against the coal company and a counter-claim made by the Independent Coal and Lumber Company against the CPR.
Neither party would divulge the amount of the settlement. It is understood however, that it is not of an order which would have serious financial consequences to either the railway or the coal and lumber company.
In making his announcement to the court. Mr. Hughes intimates that he was doing so with the consent of the other counsel involved.