Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area

1938 March 9 - Man drives automobile from Interprovincial Bridge into Ottawa Union station.

Ottawa Journal Thursday 10 March 1938

Mistakes And Rides on Rails Of Trestle

Ottawa Motorist Stalls on Tracks of Hull Electric and C.P.R.

Riding the rails and ties of trestle bridge and embankment, an automobile was driven from the capital Alexandra Bridge roadway right into the Ottawa Railway terminal at Union Station, on Wednesday evening, when its driver took the Hull electric Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway right-of-way in mistake for the vehicular roadway at the other end of the Interprovincial bridge.
Russell Robertson, 49, of 159 Belmont Avenue, who was driver and sole occupant of the car, was arrested by Ottawa and Railway police on a charge of reckless driving.
Robertson, who satisfied the police he actually made a mistake when he left the roadway in favour of the railway tracks, was allowed freedom on his own recognizance.
Appearing in magistrates court this morning, and without any plea being entered to the reckless driving charge, the case was adjourned until next Monday.
Removed with difficulty
Constable's Tom Stoneman and William Meehan were obliged to drive the automobile from its dangerous position on the tracks under the bridges at Connaught place to Union Station. They had to follow the tracks right into the train sheds, drive up a ramp to the cement platform, and, in the wake of mail and baggage cars steer a course along the front of the train shed gates and down the platform to an exit by the station mail chute, to gain the roadway again between Union Station and the new postal terminal.
Robertson told the city police and investigator E. O'Brien, of Canadian Pacific Railway police, he was driving from Hull across the Alexandra Bridge about 7:35 p.m., and on leaving the bridge at the Ottawa end, failed to to take the slope the roadway follows to dip under the bridge's three lines of tracks, to come out at St Patrick Street near the printing Bureau.
Instead his automobile continued straight ahead along the southbound tracks of the Hull Electric Railway. Once on the tracks, Mr Robertson said he realized his mistake. He tried to back up, but the car refused to be backed, owing to the distance between the ties. Realizing that a streetcar and possibly a train, might be along at any minute, he said he thought the only safe procedure was to go ahead.
Drives Across Trestle.
Obliged to exercise extreme care to keep straddling the tracks, Mr. Robertson drove across the high trestle south of the river bridge. Had the jolting of the automobile caused it to jump the tracks, the car would have plunged down a 35-foot cliff to the banks of the Rideau canal locks. Even farther along, when the car continued towards the Ottawa Street car terminal, a deviation from the other right-of-way would have been fatal.
The automobile entered the terminal beneath the Chateau Laurier summer tea garden. Mr. Robertson found there was still no way of getting back on the road. So he continued ahead. At a point where the streetcars, far under the street level of Connaught place, round a loop, the automobile left the streetcar tracks.
However, in doing so, it straddled the C .P. R. tracks, which, running between the double car tracks across the Alexandra bridge and trestle, continue in a single line into the Union Station from that point.
There, still in the tunnel beneath the Connaught place, the car stalled, partly on the railway right-of-way, and in serious danger in the event of a train moving to or from Union Station tracks.
First intimation the staff at Union Station had of the untoward occurrence was when a signal switchman, in the box between the tunnel and the station platform, saw headlights advancing through the tunnel.
Armed with a red lantern, the signalman, unaware of what had actually happened but realizing no traffic was due over his rails at the moment, ran forward to halt the vehicle. He stopped short in amazement when he saw an automobile approaching.
Just then the automobile stalled.
Station officials called Ottawa Police.
Fortunately for Mr. Robertson and his car, no street cars happened to be proceeding on the same rails as he was following when he made his unusual ride. And, more fortunate still, there had been no train for some hours.

Ottawa Citizen 10 March 1938

Amazement caused at Union station by strange "train"
With the next train not due for more than two hours and no word of a special arriving, railway officials at the Union Station were startled about 7.45 last night to see twin headlights approaching from the north on the single two-way track from Hull.  Block signals were immediately set against the train but the lights continued to advance.  A switchman raced up the track swinging a red lantern, the universal signal to stop, and finally the lights stopped on the tracks just under the south side of the Plaza bridge.
C.P.R. officials who had followed the switchman up the track to investigate what was presumed to be an engineer running through block signals, were amazed to find that it was an automobile that was driving into the station on the tracks.
So He Went Ahead
The driver, Russell Robertson, aged 49, of 159 Belmont avenue, told police and railway officials that he had been coming across the Alexandra bridge from Hull and at the Ottawa end of the bridge had driven on to the Hull Electric railway tracks by mistake, instead of continuing along the road which swings right downhill under the tracks and comes out in front of the Printing Bureau to Mackenzie avenue.  He said that once on the tracks he could not back up so continued ahead.
Mr. Robertson was taken to the Ottawa police station by Prowler Constables T. Stoneman and W. Meehan and was charged with reckless driving.  He was allowed to go home but his car was kept at the police station.
In court this morning the case was remanded until next Tuesday without a plea being entered.  The car was returned to Mr. Robertson.  C.P.R. investigators said there was no charge against Mr. Roberston under the Railway Act. The incident will be reported to Montreal and instructions for prosecution, if any, will be issued from headquarters.
First Time on Record.
Railway officials said last night that it was the first time in their memory that an automobile had been driven into the station without special flanged wheels for official cars.  With the automobile on the tracks it was a problem as to how it was going to be taken away.  Constable Stoneman drove the car into the covered part of the station, jumped several sets of tracks then jumped the car up onto the cement walk which parallels the tracks.  The car was then driven up to the glass partitioned part of the station and then south again to the mail-hole where mail trucks are loaded and from there around the powerhouse and to Besserer street.  It was then taken to the police station.
Noticed in Despatches
Edward O'Brien, investigator for the C.P.R., said last night that since records of all movements of vehicles over the C.P.R. tracks are kept by the despatcher, the following message was sent over the despatcher's key:
"Automobile carrying Ontario license 2-U-280 arrived at Union Station, Ottawa from Hull at 7.47 p.m., March 9, 1938.  No order or staff.  Conductor did not report to despatcher."
Auto Undamaged
At the police station the automobile was examined and found to be undamaged.  It was pointed out by police and by the C.P.R. investigators that to reach the station the automobile must have travelled across the trestle bridge which is a continuation of the Alexandra bridge and also along the edge of the cliff over the Ottawa river and Rideau canal where a slight miscalculation on the part of the driver would have toppled the automobile many feet to the ice below.  Mr. Robertson told police that he had travelled along the ties when he found that he could not keep the wheels of the automobile on the narrow iron rails of the street car tracks.

Ottawa Citizen 17 March 1938

Drove on Tracks dangerous Driving Charge Withdrawn
When on the evening of March 9, after crossing the Interprovincial Bridge, Russell Robertson, 159 Belmont avenue, drove his automobile along the railway tracks instead of the roadway and landed up at the Union Station, he surprised railway officials and a lot of others.  The police figured he was guilty of something and as a start charged him with driving in a manner dangerous to the public.  After a remand, the case was slated for traffic court yesterday afternoon.
When it was called Sergt. Hector Lavigne asked that the charge be withdrawn as there was no evidence to support it.  The only witnesses were those who saw the automobile moving merrily along the railway tracks with lights burning brightly and coming to a stop at the station where it was met by railwaymen who got a real surprise.  They could tell little to prove reckless driving, in the opinion of the police, and so the charge was dropped.
The railway officials might have laid a charge for trespassing or obstructing the tracks or for something else but decided against any prosecution. They feel that there will not be many others who will take the same route to Ottawa.

Bruce Chapman writes in May 2021

I do recall driving southbound from Hull towards Ottawa in a snowstorm in the mid-1960’s, and I could have ended up there if I had not been paying attention, as just before the road headed under the M&O Subdivision, where a vehicle could end up like this guy did....I THINK it might have been put there in case a signal maintainer had to take a truck onto the right-of-way to do some work on the approach signal to Ottawa Union, but by then most of them had track motor cars.

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Updated 28 May 2021