From the Ottawa Citizen 8 December 1958Coaches stay up. Tragedy averted. CNR praised for fast work. (with pictures)
Officials suspect a chipped rail caused the spectacular derailment of a CNR passenger train which injured 10 persons Saturday at Vars. They think the track was damaged by an earlier train.
Four cars of a Montreal-Ottawa train - roaring into the Capital at 70 miles an hour-bucked the track at 11.17 a.m. a mile and a half east of the village. Vars is 17 miles southeast of Ottawa.
Officials believe the track, made brittle by near-zero temperatures, was damaged by an eastbound Ottawa-Montreal local train No. 48 around 8.10 a.m.
The derailed coaches plowed a deep, half-mile-long furrow beside the track - but all remained upright.
Damage may exceed $50,000.
Authorities say a tragedy was averted because none of the cars tipped over when they plunged off the rails. None of the injuries was serious. All but three persons were released from hospital after treatment.
There were 107 passengers on the train. It was made up of two diesel engines, two baggage cars, three coaches and a parlor-dining car.
The accident cut the main Ottawa-Montreal CNR line for nearly 16 hours. It destroyed 310 feet of track and severely damaged another 2,700 feet.
The wheel assemblies of the derailed cars will have to be replaced, officials expect.
The three passenger coaches and the parlor-dining car left the rails and plowed along beside the track. The lead engine remained on the rails but the rear wheels of the second engine jumped off and straddled one track. The two mail cars - which had broken from the rest of the train —-also straddled the tracks and the four units ripped and twisted hundreds of yards of rail and ties before coming to a halt.
Officials said if the derailment had occurred a few minutes later the train would have smashed into the Vars station itself and might easily have spread death and destruction in the village.
The weight of the four coaches and the soft earth helped prevent tragedy.
Frost apparently had not penetrated deep enough to hold up the heavy coaches. The result was that all four cars - swept along by their momentum - plowed a deep furrow extending some 800 yards while passengers inside were tossed about "like corks in the ocean."
Travellers said screams mingled with the roar of ripping track as baggage bounced crazily around the cars.
Running On Time
The train left Montreal at 9 a.m. It was due at Ottawa Union Station at 11.25. It was running on time when the derailment occurred.
Conductor Arsene Perron o Montreal was first to realize the train was being derailed.
"I was in the second coach a the head end making up my accounts when I noticed the car was rocking" he said. "I knew something was wrong so I braced my self for the shock.
"The tail-end of our coach snapped like a whip and then kept going straight ahead. 1 knew we had jumped the rails. I hung on for dear life.
"We bumped along, and I guess we were hitting about 70 miles an hour. The couplings had snapped themselves from the rest of the train and steam came hissing into the rear of our car. I shouted to the passengers to hold on and be calm.
"They were very brave people. When we finally came to a halt I immediately started to help those who were injured."
The alarm was first sent into the Rockland detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police.
Four ambulances, from Exclusive and the St. John Ambulance Association in Ottawa arrived on the scene. Dr. Pierre Jacques Beaudet, of Embrun was the first doctor to reach the wreck.
A way-freight at Coteau Junction was "broken" when word of the wreck was flashed to Ottawa. Its diesel engine and a caboose under Engineer Earl Cooper and Fireman Keith Colts of Ottawa went to the wreck scene to transport injured stretcher cases to waiting ambulances at a nearby crossing.
Many passengers not listed as injured nursed puffed lips, scraped chins, and abrasions to arms and legs.
Two OTC buses were sent to the scene to bring stranded passengers to the Capital. They were forced to park at a farm off a sideroad about a mile from the wreck.
Hundreds of cars converged on the scene as news of the wreck spread. Highways were blocked on all sides.
Track was destroyed from mile 116.4 to 117.1. It was operative again at 2.50 a.m. Sunday but extreme caution is being exercised by trains passing through the area. Speed is restricted to five miles an hour until permanent repairs can be made.
A 75-man CNR wreckage crew repaired the track. Two giant cranes with a total lifting capacity of 260 tons were used. One was borrowed from the Canadian Pacific Railway company, the other brought from Montreal.
Officials said the cost of fixing the track alone would be $12,500.
In addition, it is feared low temperatures Saturday night may have caused extensive frost damage to the three passenger cars and the dining car, all left axle-deep in mud. Damage to the passenger cars may reach $100,000.
The long, straight stretch of track looked like the unloading platform at Union Station.
Nearly 100 stranded passengers trudged through ankle-deep snow along the railway ties to reach the waiting buses.
They carried suitcases, brief cases, lunch kits, umbrellas and raincoats.
Many had minor lacerations to chins or foreheads, or puffed lips. But they all felt lucky their injuries had not been more serious.
Passengers praised the railway for the promptness with which aid and emergency transport to Ottawa had been provided.
Arthur Oulton of Moncton took the wreck in his stride. He was busy taking moving pictures of survivors when reporters arrived at the OTC bus which had plowed through deep snow into a farmyard beside the tracks to pick up the passengers.
"One woman was knocked right out of her shoes and she hasn't found them since," he said.
Later, the same lady was taken to the rescue caboose rushed in from Coteau Junction. She had still not located the missing shoes.
Several married couples carried young children along the snow-swept track muffled in blankets.
Alex Saunders of Ottawa - now stationed with the RCAF near Montreal described the jolting shock of the derailment:
"Suddenly it seemed like the air brakes went on and "the whole train went sideways and off the track.
"I threw myself down in the aisle when the cars started to go wild. I guess this saved me from injury. There were several persons injured in the car in which I was riding - the third passenger car next to the diner. But in the car ahead some were more seriously hurt.
"Everyone was tossed around like peas in the pod. But we were lucky at that."
Mrs. Mace Coffey of 900 Kingsmere Avenue, Ottawa, was in the coach second from the end of the train.
"It seemed I was yanked sideways and tossed against the side of the car," she said. "People were screaming. Bodies were being tossed all over the aisle. I was tossed against the wall of the coach and hurt my side. It wasn't serious though. It could have been worse."
For Lynn and Stewart Markham of Montreal, it was an unforgettable experience. Lynn, aged 11, and Stewart, 3, were travelling to Ottawa with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Markhajm. It was Stewart's first train ride.
"The children were scared," said Mr. Markham. "They shouted but they had enough sense to hold on to anything they could lay their hands on. We were in the second last coach. At first there was a sickening thud. Then we seemed to just keep travelling straight ahead."
Mrs. 0. W. McNamara, of La-chine, was travelling with her six-year-old daughter, Nancy.
"I was reading a magazine at the time," Mrs. McNamara said. "When the car in which I was riding lurched sideways, we came down with a terrific thud and then kept going straight ahead. I didn't know what was happening. My nose was bleeding from being tossed against the window. Nancy held on to me. We rocked sideways, bumped along and then it was all over."