Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area

1957, February 28 - Canadian National Continental hits a truck at Bells Corners, Beachburg subdivision, and derails two diesel units and ten passenger cars.


Public Archives PA-208687-90

From the Ottawa Citizen of 28 February 1957:

Close to 100 in miraculous escape as train hits truck.
Ten cars spill off the track at 55 mph clip.
The CNR's eastbound Continental today knifed into a braking tractor-trailer at a level crossing on the city's outskirts, derailing a two-unit diesel and ten cars.
About 75 passengers and about 15 crew members aboard were violently shaken up. Damage was estimated at $1,000,000.
The smash left a 300-yard tangle of wreckage and scattered cars at a crossing just north of Bells Corners.
Further Reports, Pictures  Page 7.
It was incredible that there was no loss of life or serious injury.
Both the train and the tractor-trailer - the latter was northbound on Highway No. 15 - were heading towards Ottawa at the time of the 6.05 a.m. crash.
The train - the CNR's Continental due to arrive at Union Station at 6.35 a.m. - was travelling at about 55 miles per hour, the conductor, Daniel J. Pickett, of Capreol, Ont., told The Citizen.
Evert Bergsma, of St. Anne's, Ont., 33-year-old driver of the heavy vehicle owned by Zavitz Bros. Ltd., of Wainfleet, Ont., escaped unscathed from the accident which drew thousands to the scene.
15,000 tins of baby food.
Included among the 75 passengers who were abruptly jolted out of their sleep were more than a score of wives and children who were proceeding to Halifax enroute to join their husbands and fathers serving with NATO forces in Europe. They were due to leave Halifax on the liner Scythia on Saturday.
Spread along the railway roadbed for more than 100 yards on either side of the crossing were the contents of more than 500 unit cases of canned baby food, valued at about $4,000. The 15-ton cargo of the tractor-trailer comprised 15,000 tins of the baby food. 
The crash came after the tractor-trailer came to a stop on the tracks in spite of the efforts of the driver to bring it to a halt in time.  The driver blamed the vehicle's brakes for the truck's position on the tracks.
Still shaking an hour after his harrowing experience, Mr. Bergsma recounted for the Citizen what he could recall of the moments leading up to the crash.
"I was moving along at a normal rate of speed, when I suddenly noticed the train looming up to my left.  My first thought was to put on my brakes. By that time the train was practically upon me.
"But my brakes refused to work."
The driver's miraculous escape from death resulted from the fact that the train struck the vehicle near the point where the tractor section connects with the heavy trailer.
The smash literally cut the tractor, housing the driver, away from the trailer and left it practically undamaged. The cab and its occupant landed upright on the highway just to. the north of the tracks. The major portion of the tractor was located about 100  feet east of the highway on the Bells Corners side of the crossing. The other part was found on the opposite side of the crossing.
Only three minor injuries.
Injuries - all minor in nature - were sustained by only three of those on the train.
The engineer, Dean C. Burrill, of 1054 Apolydor Avenue, Ottawa, received small cuts to the face and hands but was able to go home after the mishap.
J. F. MacLean, the baggageman, whose home is in Capreol, Ont., received a bruised arm, and William Evans, 37, a seaman enroute from Vancouver to Hali-I fax, suffered a wrist injury.
The only one to be treated in hospital was Evans who was released from the Civic Hospital as soon as he was attended to.  CNR officials estimated that the arduous job of clearing the line would be completed by 6 p.m. and service would then be resumed over that section.
Meanwhile, the CNR's Super-Continental, due to arrive in Ottawa at 2.50 p.m., was rerouted at North Bay to run over the CPR line to the Capital. All CNR locals are temporarily running over the CNR's Renfrew Valley section from Barry's Bay. The crash occurred on a level crossing located on a straight, dry stretch of road about 500 yards north of the Bells Corners intersection. There was a regular "railway crossing" sign at the crossing but no wig-wag.
The scene in the vicinity of the crossing was one of wreckage and confusion born out of fantastic circumstances.
All of the cars and the two diesel engines were derailed.
Just three of the cars three sleepers and the dinette remained upright adjacent to the torn up section of track. The day coach was in a near-upright position but came to rest about 15 feet from the track.
The train left Capreol at 10.45 p.m. where it picked up passengers transferred to it from a train travelling east from Western Canada.
The transfer of passengers from the twisted cars to Colonial Coach buses for transport to Union station was completed before 8 o'clock.
There was little panic by those concerned. Mrs. H. A. Smith, whose address was given as Ottawa, and her sister, Mrs. P. J. Slaght, of Cobalt, Ont, was concerned about the body of their mother which was in a casket in the baggage car. The casket was later removed for transfer to Montreal. Other members of the crew, in addition to the conductor, Dean Burrill, of 1054 Apolydor Avenue, Ottawa, engineman; George Burns, of 571 Somerset Street, fireman; Allan Irwin of Capreol, trainman; and J. F. Mac-Lean, of Capreol, baggage man.
OPP Sgt. Edwin Richardson and Constables Ray Miller and Bill McGinnis, all of the Ottawa detachment, were at the scene shortly after the crash.

From the Ottawa Journal of 28 February 1957:

CNR Engineer Dean C. Surrill is resting at his Apolydor avenue home today after a train-truck wreck beyond his understanding.
He said a tractor-trailer passed a stopped car at the Bell's Corners level crossing this morning to straddle the tracks when the East bound Continental was signalling its approach.
"I could hardly believe my eyes", the engineer told The Journal. "We didn't have a chance.
"I saw a car attached to a small trailer stopped at the crossing. The transport pulled around the car and into the level crossing. It was astounding."
Mr. Burrill advised Provincial Police of the situation as he saw it and disclaimed all responsibility for the derailment.
"I slammed on the brakes but we travelled for several hundred yards", he said. The 43-year-old engineer has been an employe of the CNR for 15 years and an engineer for eight years. Some witnesses said they overheard the truck driver say his brakes failed and he was forced to swing around the car in a bid to clear the tracks.
Asked about it some hours later, his reply was a noncommittal "Could be!"
He said, he had been instructed by his superiors and insurance officials to say nothing of the crash.
George Burns, the fireman, said he did not realize anything was going to happen until a split second before the crash occurred.

From the Ottawa Citizen 1 March 1957:

Swerved to avoid car at crossing.
Several lives possibly were saved at Bells Corners yesterday morning when transport truck driver Evert Bergsma, 33, of Wellandport, Ont., realizing his brakes were useless, swerved past a stopped passenger car rather than push it into the path of the CNR's crack Continental passenger train.
As a result of this quick-trigger thinking, the Ottawa-bound train crashed into the end of the 15-ton transport Bergsma was driving. Ten coaches were derailed but, miraculously, no one was killed. Three persons suffered minor injuries.
The driver's explanation for the crash, was revealed today by John Grace, legal counsel for Zaviti Brothers of Wainfleet, Ont, owners of th« tractor trailer which was on lease to Secord Transport of Fonthill.
Bergsma's statement maintained that the truck brakes failed as he was slowing down behind the passenger car, which had stopped at the crossing for the diesel-powered train which was approaching the Ottawa suburbs at 55 miles an hour.
To avoid pushing the car into the path of the locomotive, Bergsma made a quick decision to pull out and attempt to get across the crossing before the train arrived. He stated that he knew his brakes were useless and this was his only alternative. The train was travelling at 55 mph.
This sequence of events was substantiated by train engineer Dean C, Burrill, 43, of Ottawa who said that the tractor-trailer entered the level crossing after swinging out to pass an automobile stopped for the train,
"We didn't have a chance," he said. "The truck went around the stopped car. I slammed on the locomotive brakes but we travelled for several hundred yards before the train stopped."
There was such an impact that parts of the steel siding of the truck trailer were welded to the front of the diesel cab.
Bergsma told his legal counsel that he believed there were several persons in the car which he swerved around.
Regular traffic over the damaged line was resumed at four o'clock this morning, 22 hours after the crash.
A CNR emergency crew worked continuously throughout yesterday and last night to clear the right-of-way of the 10 damaged coaches and replace 100 yards of rail and roadbed torn up in the crash. Auxiliary trains, complete with huge grappling hooks, were brought In from Capreol and Montreal,
Six coaches and the two damaged diesel units still are along the trackside but will be removed later today.   All units will be "shopped" in Ottawa or Montreal for complete inspection and repair, where needed.  All coaches and both diesel units will be salvagable.
Normal vehicular traffic was resumed on Highway 15 at 2.30 this morning after the last of the toppled coaches was lifted out of the way.
While the Ottawa-North Bay mainline was being put back into service all CNR trains were rerouted over the CPR mainline as far as Pembroke, then back onto the CNR line into North Bay.
The first train to resume regular service this morning was the east-bound Continental, the sister train to the one involved in yesterday morning's crash.
Ontario Provincial Police officers are back at the scene today completing their investigation, but a report will not be submitted for Crown Attorney consideration until the probe is completed.

From Ottawa Citizen 9 August 1957

Approve RR Signal At Bells Corners
An automatic warning signal will be installed at the Canadian National Railways crossing on Highway 15 at Bells Corners, Nepean Township council learned last night
The crossing was the scene of a spectacular crash last February, in which a train ploughed into a large tractor-trtiler. No one was hurt In the crash, although several cars were derailed and and coods were scattered for many yards along the track
A letter from the Board of Transport Commissioners, authorizing installation of the signals, was read at last night's council meeting.
Sixty percent of the cost will be borne by a special federal fund for railway crossing improvement, 25 percent by the Ontario Department of Highways and the remaining 15 percent by the CNR

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Updated 6 March 2019