Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area



1972, February 9 - 36 cars derail at Morrisburg, Canadian National, Kingston subdivision




From the Ottawa Citizen 9 February 1972
(Note: there were several slightly different versions put out according to the edition)
Triple blast turns railcars into missiles
Morrisburg. A vivid plume of flame rising from the mass of twisted railway cars and smouldering debris has so far thwarted attempts to clear the CNR's main line here.
A derailment of 36 cars occurred about 8.15 a.m. Friday, tearing up hundreds of feet of track and sending boxcars careening down embankments and into the bush.
Three major explosions in tanker cars carrying thousands of gallons of propane gas shook homes as far away as seven miles.
One resident likened the first explosion to an earth tremor.
One of the propane-laden cars weighing between 50 and 60 tons, flew about a quarter of a mile through the air after it exploded.
CNR officials speculted that burning gas escaping from the ruptured tank acted like a rocket.
Swathe in trees
The car lifted off the track and cut a neat swath through the trees - some of which were about 12 inches in diameter at their base.
The trimmed trees indicate that it entered the bush at a height of about 12 feet before rising to about 30 feet above the ground.
The tanker crashed into a service line which joins the main tracks near the scene of the derailment, about a quarter of a mile away.
It then plunged through a wooded area for another 150 feet before coming to rest.  Charred telephone poles located along its line of travel indicated the intense heat.
Pieces of splintered limbs from the trees it had struck littered the lines.  Some had penetrated more than a foot into frozen ground beside the railway lines.
Tankers explode
A total of three tankers exploded within seconds of the derailment which occurred on a straight stretch of line about two miles east of here.
It was from one of these tankers  - lying helter skelter among the other wrecked railway cars that a brilliant orange plume spurted all day Friday.
Fears that the remaining gas in the car might explode, coupled with the knowledge that a fourth propane-laden tanker was also damaged in the derailment, kept recovery crews at a distance.
One CNR spokesperson said crews would wait until the flame went out before attempting to clear the line.  The derailment blocked both east and west lines.  Trains have been rerouted through Ottawa.
The spokesman said he expected the lines here to be blocked until Monday.  Heavy cranes from both Montreal and Toronto were to arrive at the scene Friday afternoon to clear the twisted cars from both sides.
Area sealed off
Within minutes of the derailment police attempted to seal off the area.
Both police and the Morrisburg fire department learned of the explosions by their close proximity to the scene.  The provincial police detatchment was shaken by the blasts.
Firemen succeeded in reaching the remote scene, but could do little to contain the fire.  The fierce heat drove them back as the propane shot flames 100 feet into the cold air.
An inspection of the scene about six hours later, when newsmen were allowed near the potgentially dangerous area, revealed scorched fence posts and melted snow as far as 150 feet from the main line.
A total of about 20 cars caught fire and by early evening were still smouldering beside the hissing propane.
A decision had not been made concerning the remaining propane tanker car which had not ignited.
The eastbound freight train had been hauling 77 cars - 59 of which were loaded with general cargo.
While one ruptured tanker spewed grain onto the scorched tracks, another loaded with fruit and vegetables littered the area with hundreds of burned oranges.
Twisted metal, splintered framed and some of the car's wheels were scattered for about 100 feet along the lines.
Curious area residents travelled by snowmobile and on foot to view the scene.  Police - fearful that another explosion might occur - cleared the area.
Neither the crew in the locomotive nor in the caboose was injured in the incident.  The first car to derail was loaded with steel and was located ten cars behind the engine.
Chlorine gas
The rear portion of the train - including a tanker loaded with toxic chlorine gas - was eventually hauled from the rest of the wreckage by a locomotive sent in from nearby Brockville, one of CN's headquarters.
A police spokesman said an evacuation plan had been drawn up for the people of Morrisburg had the chlorine-laden tanker ruptured.
The only people close to the explosions and derailment were members of a bush party clearing surrounding bush area of dead elm trees.
They reportedly ducked flying chunks of steel as the first propane tanker exploded.
CN officials are continuing their investigation into the derailment as work crews clear the line.
Officials say damage is impossible to estimate, but will run into hundredes of thousands of dollars.



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Updated 25 July 2017