Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area

1920, September 23 - Head on collision at Alfred

Ottawa Citizen 23 September 1920

Freight on Siding is Stated to Have Blocked Main Line.
Serious Wreck Narrowly Averted.
An investigation by C. P. R. officials into the cause of the wreck of the C. P. R. Imperial train at Alfred, shortly after midnight this morning is proceeding today at Alfred.
It is now definitely stated that the cause of the wreck was not a derailment but a head-on collision between this crack C. P. R. flyer No. 1 and a freight train which had overrun a siding and got on the main track again, just before the flyer came along.
No. 1 C. P. R. train is the train which leaves Montreal going west every evening at 10.15, arriving in Ottawa at 1.20 a.m., and leaving here 20 minutes later.
Due to Collision.
Telephone communication between Ottawa and Alfred has been suspended since 10 a.m. today, and it was impossible to get in touch with officials investigating the wreck.
F. Nash, Bilisoly. commissioner of fisheries for the state of Virginia, U.S.A., arrived In Ottawa at an early hour this morning after having been one of the passengers on the wrecked train.
Mr. Bilisoly, who is here as a United States representative to the fisheries conference, stated previous stories of the disaster are not correct insomuch as the accident occurred through a head-on collision. His story is confirmed by Mr. S. N. Berry of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, also a passenger.
Flag Man Was Sent Back.
Mr. Bilisoly said that a freight train had apparently pulled in on a siding either at or near Alfred. The train, however, was either too long for the siding, or pulled over the end of it and onto the main track. As soon as this was noticed a flag man was sent ahead to notify coming trains. However, the flag man had only got about four car lengths on his way when the Imperial train came along from Montreal at a quick rate of speed and crashed into the other train.
Box Car Took Shock.
 "There was only one thing which saved a bad wreck." said Mr. Bilisoly, "and that is the fact that on the Limited in the rear of the engine was a box car. Next to it was a mail car.  These two cars were badly smashed. It was evident that they acted as a cushion and took up the impact of the blow. None of the other cars left the track. No one was hurt, but a number of ladies on the train were seriously alarmed and were not pacified for some time."
Investigation Opened.
Mr. H. B. Spencer, superintendent of this division, is on his holidays. Mr. J. H. Hughes, assistant superintendent, is today at the scene of the wreck.
It is understood that an investigation as to the cause of the wreck is proceeding today at Alfred.
Train Was Re-Routed.
Following the derailment, the train was taken back to Vaudreull, and from there the passengers for the west were taken around by Smith's Falls and later brought to Ottawa. The train from Smith's Falls arrived in Ottawa shortly after five o'clock.
This morning owing to the. derailment all outgoing trains from Ottawa to Montreal over the C. P. R. were cancelled. Passengers who had purchased tickets for these trains previous to the derailment had their passage money refunded and traveled over the Grand Trunk lines. Passengers from Ottawa for the west were sent from Ottawa to Smith's Falls by a special train, where they connected with the Montreal-Toronto trains.
Ottawa Men in Crew.
The first train out of Ottawa to Montreal over the C. P. R. lines left the Central station at noon, it being the Trans-Canada Ltd. No. 8 from Vancouver. Both the C. P. R. noon trains from Montreal were over an hour and a half late in arriving at the Central station.
Mr. J.R. Hamilton, 17 Laurel street, who was the conductor in charge of the train and Mr. J. Chisholm, 693  Wellington street, the engineer, took out the special train from Ottawa to Smith's Falls this morning and could not be interviewed.

Ottawa Journal 23 September 1920

CP #1, the Trans Canada Limited with 300 passengers aboard hit a freight train head-on at Alfred at 1 am this morning.  2 baggage and express cars on the head end of the passenger train were demolished, and 7 box cars on the freight train were derailed, but no one was seriously injured.
The rescue train took the passengers back to Vaudreuil, then up the Grand Trunk to Ottawa.
The mishap was caused by the freight train running through the east switch before stopping to clear the passenger train.

Ottawa Journal 23 September 1920 evening edition

One hurt when Trans Canada flyer in wreck
Crashes into freight train on siding at Alfred after midnight
CPR main Montreal line blocked as result
Passengers on famous train shaken up and frightened in accident
A heavy fog is said to have been responsible for the failure of the engineer and fireman of the Trans Canada train to see the headlight on the freight train engine, which extended beyond the siiding to the mainline track and resulted in last night's wreck. It is also stated that the brakeman of the freight train had not time enough to lay torpedoes on the track, to warn the passenger train of the danger. It is stated by railway officials that a temporary track will be constructed at the scene of the accident immediately.
300 passengers on the Canadian Pacific Railway Trans-Canada Limited, No.1 train, miraculously escaped death or serious injuries, shortly after midnight this morning, when that train plowed head on into a freight train at Alfred,Ont., about 35 miles from Ottawa.
Only shaken up.
The baggage and express cars of the passenger train were smashed, but all persons escaped with nothing more than a severe shaking. The engineer of the freight train sustained severe injuries about the head, and also a shattered the arm. With this exception no one was injured. The Trans-Canada was coming towards Ottawa.
A statement on the accident could not be obtained at the CPR offices today, but officials immediately left the city for the scene of the smash up to conduct an investigation. The Montreal - Ottawa line is blocked by the wreck.
Freight train too long.
Reports from residents at Alfred are to the effect that the accident was responsible to the inability of the freight train to place all its cars on the siding about 3 miles from the railway station. The siding at that point is said to have been too short to hold the full train, with the result that several cars on the front of the freight train and the engine were left standing on the mainline track.
Seven box cars piled up.
No warning it is said was given to the Trans-Canada train, and it was traveling at a fairly high speed when the impact occurred. Passengers marveled that the more serious wreck did not result. Engines of both trains were severely damaged but on the passenger train the damage did not run farther than the second car. The smoker came next, but this coach escaped untouched. Seven box cars on the freight train were piled on top of one another along the track.
Due you here at 2 a.m.
The Trans-Canada train was due in Ottawa shortly before 2 a.m. standard time.
When the impact occurred, the passengers in the sleepers for jolted in their berths. Slight panics prevailed in some of the ten sleepers and tourist coaches, and within a few minutes after the collision all the passengers were alongside of the wrecked train in scanty attire. Their anxiety was relieved when the train crews informed them that no one was injured. Around by Smiths Falls.
The passengers arrived in Ottawa shortly after fiv o'clock this morning on a special train which was ordered out from Montreal. It was necessary for the train to detour back to Vaudreuil, using the Grand Trunk tracks for a part of the way. The passengers were finally despatched to Smiths Falls, where they resumed the journey to Ottawa.
Mr. James H Hughes, assistant superintendent of the road, and other officials left for the scene of the wreck early this morning to conduct an investigation.
Main Line blocked.
As a result of the smash up the main line was blocked to traffic today. The CPR Montreal train, due in the city at 11:30 o'clock this morning did not reach the city until 12:35 p.m. This train was dispatched from Montreal to Bedell and then over the Toronto Montreal line to Kemptville. CPR Montreal train 501, due at 10:55 a.m. had not arrived in the city at 2 this afternoon.
It was announced at the CPR offices that the Ottawa Montreal line would be closed to all traffic until the line is cleared of the wrecked trains.
Tells of accident.
The Trans-Canada flyer crashed into a freight train which had overrun the siding at Alfred said Mr F Nash Billsoley of Norfolk, and Commissioner of Fisheries of that state, who arrived at the Chateau this morning after his experience. Mr. Billsoley, said the accident happened about midnight. Immediately after the crash, Mr. Billsoley said, there was considerable confusion for a few moments but with the discovery that no one was hurt, the passengers patiently waited for the train to take them to their destination.
The freight train, which caused the wreck, had evidently pulled in on the siding to allow the flyer to pass and unfortunately over ran into the mainline. The flyer, pounding along on her way to Ottawa, smashed head on into the freight engine. Seven freight cars were hurled from the rails while the engine and the first two cars of the flyer were badly smashed. Mr. Billsoley attributes the escapeof the passengers to the fact that the first car in rear of the flyer engine was an express car and the next a mail van. These two cars acted as a cushion, he said, and took up most of the shock. Several other passengers were thrown from their seats and were slightly shaken up, but no one was seriously hurt.
Mr. Bill Sully is here to attend the Fisheries convention in the Victoria Museum and is none the worse for his trying night.

Ottawa Citizen 24 September 1920

Investigation of Accident to Imperial Limited, No. 1 , by Acting Supt. Hughes - Line Cleared for Traffic.
Definite blame for the head-on collision between an eastbound freight train and the westbound Imperial Limited at Alfred, OnL, forty miles from Ottawa at 12.05 midnight Thursday, was not established by the investigation of C.P.R. officials, who spent all of yesterday at the scene of the wreck.
To The Citizen last night Mr. J. H. Hughes, acting superintendent of the Ottawa division in the absence of Mr. H. B. Spencer, general superintendent, stated that it had found that the train crew of the westbound Imperial Limited had been exonerated from blame.
The cause of the smashup was said last night by Mr. Hughes to have been due to a heavy fog which prevailed in the district of Alfred station at the time of the accident. An effort, the acting superintendent said, was made by the crew of No. 86, the eastbound freight train, to back up and so clear the siding but, owing to the weight of the thirty-two cars attached to this train this was found impossible within the time given and the freight train could not clear the siding. The westbound train, arriving out of a. heavy fog bank, had no knowledge of the projecting front end of the engine of the freight train across the tracks, and crashed into it. Fortunately the Imperial Limited at the time was slowing down to meet the yard section regulations and the eastern head of the heavy freight train and the western end of the Imperial Limited did not come together.
Official Explanation.
In an official explanation of the crash, Mr. Hughes over the long distance telephone told The Citizen, from Alfred, that freight train No. 86, east bound and in charge of Conductor Sproule and Engineer Kells, of Outremount, had taken the, siding to allow No.1 to go past. The acting superintendent stated, that upon the crew of the freight train finding that the front end of the siding did not clear, that Brakeman Pullen, of the freight train, had been sent out to flag the western bound express train. The orakeman [sic] had not gone any considerable distance before the crash took place.
Injured Statement False.
When the collision took place, Engineer Kells, of the freight train, was struck lightly by a piece of flying glass, which came from his engine cab window. Mr. Hughes last night positively denied that Mr. Kells had been placed in a state as could be considered injured in relation to a train wreck. The acting superintendent outlined as an instance that Mr. Kells, after being asked as to the extent of the cut he received, did not even care to file a claim as he would be entitled to under the Workmen's Compensation act.
Engineer James Chisholm and Conductor J. R. Hamilton, of the Imperial Limited, reached the city late yesterday afternoon, after their sojourn on a special train from Ottawa to Smith's Falls early yesterday morning which brought westbound passengers to a connection point on ihe C.P.R. system where they could take a train for the west. Both engineer and conductor refused to make any statement for publication.
The main line of tho C.P.R. which was affected by the crash was, accordlng to the acting superintendent's statement, cleared for traffic at eleven o'clock. Mr. Hughes denied the report that the track had been torn up for a considerable distance and said the trackage had not been affected for more than two rail lengths. The scene of the derailment is about forty miles from Ottawa. Early yesterday morning a staff composed of around a score of men from the maintenance and way departments of the railway was placed at work. According to Mr. Hughes the chief property damage resulted to a baggage car, booked through for the west, and an express car. The damage tothe baggage and express cars, though they were derailed, was not considered as serious by the company.
The remainder of the crew on the Imperial Limited were Mr. H. King, Montreal, baggageman; fireman, Mr. Charles McCurdy, and Brakeman Gamble. Mr. R. Manton was the fireman on the freight train No. 86.

Eastern Ontario Review Septenber 24, 1920

Fog is blamed for bad crash at Alfred spur
Freight engineer receives severe injuries when passenger engine hits his train.
The head on collision between CPR Trans Canada passenger train No. 1, westbound and No. 86 freight train, at Alfred, early yesterday morning, has been fairly well established, as having been due, primarily, to dense fog. Mr. James H. Hughes, assistant superintendent of District 4, who was at Vaudreuil at the time of the accident, proceeded at once to the scene to investigate. He remained in Alfred all day yesterday.
Too long for siding.
From the stories related by members of the train crew and passengers, it develops that number 86, which had pulled into the siding at Alfred to allow the Trans-Canada to pass, was too long for the siding. After clearing the rear of his train from the main track, the engineer of the freight found that his engine and one or two cars still remained on the mainline. Realizing that arrival of the fast train on its way west was important, conductor Sproule, of the freight, send out a flag man with a lantern and flares.
Fog blinded engineer.
The flagman had only preceded a short distance along the track when the headlight of the onrushing passenger train showed dimly through the dense fog. He waved his lantern frantically, but the fog prevented it from being seen, and a second later, the head on crash of the two locomotives occurred. The collision completely wrecked two baggage cars immediately in rear of the engine on the passenger train, and the express car was thrown on its side in a deep ditch, filled with water and mud to a considerable depth. The rest of the coaches remained on the rails, the occupants suffering no injuries beyond a severe shaking up.
Much equipment wrecked.
The two engines were locked by the impact, and thrown to one side of the track. Seven box cars of the freight train were demolished. The engineer of the freight train is said to have received severe injuries about the head, and a shattered arm.
Stuck to throttle.
The express car rolled into the ditch just a few feet in front of him. The engineer of the passenger train, Mr. J Chisholm, 603 Wellington Street, Ottawa, stuck to his throttle, and came through the ordeal with only a severe shaking up. Last night he was suffering little or no after effects.
Through traffic resumed.
Through traffic on the Ottawa Montreal line was established shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday after a tie-up of some 12 hours. The track at the point where the wreck occurred was badly torn up, and temporary repairs were affected. The wreckage from the two trains lies on either side of the tracks

Return to Main Page of Railway Accidents

Updated 20 October 2020