|Ottawa Citizen 22 February 1998|
Car, train crash, Smiths Falls man killed
Investigators are trying to figure out why a car carrying five people ended up in the path of Via Rail passenger train at a level crossing northeast of Smiths Falls yesterday afternoon, killing the driver.
The collision happened at about 2:35 p.m. on Holbrook Road in Montague Township, about 60 kilometres southwest of Ottawa.
The car, a 1997 Cavalier, was driven by Thomas Howe, 32, of Smiths Falls. He died of multiple injuries at the Ottawa General Hospital after being taken there in a helicopter.
Mr. Howe's wife, Susan Howe, and his sisters Terresa Howe and Moira Carriere and five-year-old niece, Victoria Carriere, were taken to the Smiths Falls Community Hospital with various non-life-threatening injuries after the crash.
"The damage to the car was horrendous," said Const. Neil Fennell of the Ontario Provincial Police's Perth detachment.
"The fact that four people are still breathing after being involved in this accident is nothing short of a miracle."
The train was coming eastbound to Ottawa from Toronto and carried 133 passengers, none of whom were hurt. Mr. Howe's car was .southbound on Holbrook Road.
The train was delayed about an hour before continuing on to Ottawa.
There are no flashing lights or barriers at the crossing, but it is clearly marked, and the views both east and west from the road are clear for about 200 metres each way.
The train hit the car on the front right fender near the wheel well just as it was entering the flat crossing. OPP Const. Leanne Merkley is investigating the accident to try to determine why the car was in the path of the train.
Ottawa Citizen 23 February 1998
Survivor criticizes fatal train crossing
Woman's brother died in Smiths Falls-area accident
A survivor of Saturday's car-train collision near Smiths Falls whose brother, Thomas Howe, was killed, joined a growing chorus of voices condemning the crossing where the accident occurred.
Moira Carriere, 33, of Orleans was one of four passengers in Mr. Howe's 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier when it drove into the path of an Ottawa-bound VIA Rail passenger train at 2:35 p.m. at a crossing on Holbrook Road, situated north of Smiths Falls in Montague Township.
The violent impact shattered the car's front-end and threw its engine 91 metres into a nearby field.
Despite police reports that views both east and west from the road are clear for about 200 metres each way, Ms. Carriere said visibility from the road was severely reduced by the thickness of the trees lining the road leading up to the crossing.
"Those reports are baloney," she said yesterday. "You can hardly see the tracks ... It's very dangerous."
Ms. Carriere suffered brusies and whiplash in the accident that killed her brother and injured his wife, Susan Howe, 29, a sister, Theresa Howe, 33, of Newmarket, Ont., and Ms. Carriere's five-year-old daughter, Victoria.
She couldn't recall much of the accident itself.
Though there are signs to warn drivers of the approaching tracks at the level-crossing, there are no barriers or flashing lights to alert drivers to an on-coming train.
Saturday's fatal accident was but another grim addition to four previous accidents at the same crossing, three of which have occurred in the last two years.
Mr. Howe is the crossing's first fatality.
Coincidentally, Montague Township Council had already scheduled a meeting with officials from VIA Rail and the National Transportation Safety Board for this Wednesday to discuss the dangerous crossing prior to the collision that killed Mr. Howe.
One councillor with first-hand experience to the crossing's hazard is Don Edwards.
In December 1996, Mr. Edwards' three-quarter tonne pick-up truck was split in two by a freight train barreling through the flat crossing.
Mr. Edwards, who saw the train too late and skidded on ice while trying to brake, just had time to jump from his truck before it collided with the train.
"It sounded like a hand-grenade going off," he said yesterday of the impact between the train and his truck, the remains of which were wrapped around a pole.
Mr. Edwards is still paying off the $20,000 in damages to the engine that VIA sued him for and won.
A long-time resident of Pinery Road, on which Mr. and Mrs. Howe resided, Mr. Edwards said the area's burgeoning population has outgrown the minimal safety measures in place at the rural crossing.
"There was a time when there were just three houses along this stretch of road, but how there's 16," he said. "That means an increasing chance of accidents."
The Howes's neighbours along their quiet, tree-lined stretch of Pinery Road were saddened by the 32-year-old's death, but not surprised that the rail crossing had finally claimed a victim. They say come spring it's not unusual to find car parts from previous accidents strewn along the side of the tracks at the crossing. The tailgate from Mr. Edwards pick-up truck is still there.
"I don't know why they don't put a stop sign in at least," said Armand Chaput, the Howes's next door neighbour. "When I first moved in here, I remember driving right through without even realizing what I'd done."
Last fall, residents complained that trees were obscuring the sightlines along the track as you approached it from the road. The trees were promptly trimmed back.
Mr. Edwards daughter, Lesa, said the stretch of track at the Holbrook crossing is especially dangerous in the winter and specifically after a fresh snowfall.
"The snow swirls around the engine as it speeds along and all you can see is the light on its front," she said.
Trains are supposed to blow their horn as they approach the crossing but Ms. Edwards said they're usually going so fast it hardly makes a difference.
"By the time you hear it, it's too late," she said.
Adam Scott, who lives across the road from the Howes with his wife Shelley, echoed Moira Carriere's disagreement with the police report on the views at the crossing.
"You can't see Ottawa-bound trains," he said. "The trees run right up to the edge of the CN property. You have no warning."
Julie Durocher, a spokeswoman for VIA Rail, could not say whether other VIA trains have been involved in collisions at the crossing.
What is clear is that the residents of Pinery Road have lost a valued, if little known, neighbour.
For a couple who just moved into the area in September, they were quick to make their presence felt during the ice storm in January. Mr. Howe, an electrician working for Kanata Electric, opened his generator-heated house to his new neighbours while he helped them connect their own.
"They were just the kind of people we need back here," said Mr. Edwards
Mr. Howe, who was pinned inside the crumpled car, Was airlifted to the Ottawa General Hospital, where he died late Saturday afternoon of multiple injuries.
His wife, Susan, is being treated in the Ottawa Civic Hospital's neurological ward, where she is in fair condition with improving mobility despite what may be a fractured vertabrae in her upper spine.
Theresa Carriere is in good condition at the Ottawa General Hospital, where she is recovering from a bruised kidney and four fractured ribs. Ms. Carriere and her five-year-old daughter, Victoria, were both released from hospital yesterday.
Ottawa Citizen 27 February 1998
Flashing lights, barriers promised for fatal crossing
Victim's family says improvements long overdue
SMITHS FALLS In the ditches hugging the intersection of the VIA Rail track and Holbrook Road, the snow is still clutching scattered reminders of lives lived and lost.
There is a broken rear-view mirror, endless bits of plastic car interior, fragments of motors and visors, pairs of latex gloves, and items as ordinary as Canadian Tire money. Not far away, there is a crumpled tailgate from a pickup truck.
Yesterday, a group of men stood by the tracks and, with great unanimity but no joy, decided enough is enough. After a brief meeting and site inspection, federal and local authorities decided to apply to spend an estimated $140,000 to install flashing red lights, bells and barriers at the crossing.
"All the parties, VIA, the township and Transport Canada are on board," said VIA customer service manager Mike Regimbal.
It all comes too late for Thomas Howe, 32, an area resident who was killed Saturday when his 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier collided with an Ottawa-bound VIA train. His wife, Susan, 29, was seriously hurt as was one of Mr. Howe's sisters.
Two other passengers escaped major physical damage. It was the second serious accident in two months and the third in three years,
Montague Township Reeve Gary Doyle said the municipality will take immediate action while the application works its way toward ministerial approval.
Stop signs should soon appear at the tracks, he said, in addition to more signs warning about the approach of high-speed trains. The township also wants to include a warning letter in its upcoming tax bills.
It could take several months before the new warning systems are installed. Transport Canada should cover 80 per cent of the cost, with VIA picking up 7.5 per cent and the township 12.5 per cent.
When asked why action wasn't taken sooner, Reeve Doyle said: "It's just a tragic thing. I really don't know what you can say."
It is unclear exactly why drivers are not seeing the trains coming. According to OPP Const. Don Fawcett, a specialist in accident reconstruction, Mr. Howe did not take evasive action before striking the train.
Hollbrook is a curving, dirt road with thick tree growth close to the edges. It opens up briefly where the tracks cross, but there are still outcrops of trees that obscure a complete view.
The tracks also cross at an angle and the trains, 10 on a regular day, travel at speeds of up to 150 kmh.
When one of them crossed yesterday afternoon, its horn could hardly be heard over the roar of the engine, the whole train only being in view for a couple of seconds.
"You don't really hear it too well, do you?" commented Const. Fawcett as the train disappeared into the distance.
"Now image you've got five people in the car, the windows are up and the radio's on."
Steve Richards, a Calgary resident and Mr. Howe's brother-in-law, briefly attended the meeting to reinforce the family's view that the intersection is a life-threatening hazard and that improvements are long overdue.
He was surprised to hear the train could have been travelling as fast as 150 kmh.
"This is not out in the bald Prairie where you don't have people for miles around. This is the main line from the biggest city in Canada to the fourth biggest."
Mr. Richards said he's been told by neighbours that several vehicles have been pulled from the ditch after near-misses with passing trains.
He took little comfort in the fact that the authorities could take several months, possibly even a year, to install the lights and barriers.
"The speed at which these things change has taken another life."
Mr. Howe's funeral is today.