Ottawa Citizen 12 August 1972|
Collision at the Crossing
By Patricia Cote Citizen staff writer
CALUMET, Que. Kenneth Mc-Hardy heard the awful smash of metal into metal and rushed outside to see what had happened.
A five-ton fruit truck had crashed into the rear half of a CP Rail passenger dayliner bound for Montreal.
"Everything went up in the air like an explosion. It was about 10 or 15 feet high."
Mr. McHardy said it was the truck that caught fire. The dayliner was travelling at such a rapid speed that it didn't stop until half-a-mile down the track.
Mr. McHardy didn't realize until later that two people on the train were killed and 26 others injured as a result of the crash, which occurred about 9:15 a.m. on Highway 8 near this West Quebec town.
Mr. McHardy owns a service station about 40 yards from the railway crossing. He lives in a house beside the station. He was the first person to reach the scene of the accident.
"I ran to get my fire extinguisher it's one of those big ones because the truck was on fire. The flames were going up around the guy in the truck. The guy was screaming."
The "guy in the truck" was 24-year-old Reginald St.-Gelais of Gatineau, who was sitting in the passenger side of the truck. The driver of the truck, Michel Emery, 23, of Gatineau, was thrown clear upon impact. He had minor injuries.
"I put out the flames and then I ran .back and called the police and the ambulance," Mr. McHardy recalled.
Mr. McHardy said that while he and Mr. Emery waited for the ambulance and police, a lumber truck pulled up to the scene. The unidentified driver got out and attached a chain to the crumpled cab which had been flattened against the fruit truck, pinning Mr. St.-Gelais inside. With the chain, he pulled the cab into some semblance of shape, enabling the rescuers to free the trapped man. However, Mr. St.-Ge-ais, who was acting as second driver for Mr. Emery, later was pronounced dead.
Mr. McHardy said he didn't know whether the lights and the bells at the crossing were working.
But his wife said she was "pretty sure the bells were ringing. I didn't see the lights."
The McHardys' first sight of the train passengers was several people walking up the tracks through the wet, muddy fields, carrying suitcases.
Helen McHardys, the McHardys 19-year-old daughter, said many of the passengers came into the service station to use the telephone, as did Michel Emery, driver of the truck. "His nose was all bleeding and his sweater was spattered with blood," said Helen.
She said the passengers were "nervous but not hysterical." Some had minor cuts.
Although the train stops at Calumet, it normally accelerates quickly upon leaving the station, Helen said.
"The people on the train said it was going fast enough. They thought the truck's brakes must have failed," she said.
Splinters in glass
Michel Emery, the driver, has his own fruit and vegetable business In Gatineau. He was driving a truckload of fruit and vegetables from Montreal to Gatineau, a journey he makes two or three times a week.
Several hours after the accident, Michel was standing beside the train talking to reporters. The crash damaged the undercarriage of the train at the right side near the rear, shattered four windows, and left shards of wood embedded in the cracked glass.
Mr. McHardy said he thought there was a rack with crates of fruit on top of the truck, and that upon impact the crates went crashing through the train windows.
Mr. Emery told reporters that the lights and bells which mark the crossing were not operating when he approached, travelling at about 50 m.p.h.
If you are approaching the crossing coming from Montreal, there is a windbreak of trees 50 yards before the crossing. The windbreak makes it difficult to see an approaching train.
Mr. Emery said as soon as he was able to see the train he braked and tried to avoid hitting the train by going off the road on the left side, but he didn't get off in time.
Mr. Emery said he was thrown from the truck, got back on his feet and tried to help his partner, Mr. St.-Gelais.
Mrs. McHardy said a freight train had gone through earlier in the morning, and she heard the bells.
Reporters found Canadian Pacific workmen testing the warning signals at the crossing about four hours after the accident, and both the lights and the signals were functioning normally.
CALUMET, Que. CP Rail officials have denied a truck driver's claim that warning signals weren't working when his truck hit a train at a Highway 8 crossing near here Friday, killing three people.
Warning bells and lights were tested right after the crash and found to be functioning properly, said a CP spokesman in Montreal. "It (the crossing) was well-protected."
Michel Emery, 23, of Gatineau, whose fruit truck plowed into the Ottawa-Montreal dayliner about 9.15 a.m., told reporters later that neither lights nor bells were working.
Three persons were killed: Reginald St.-Gelais, 24, of 372 Cadieux St., Gatineau, Emery's passenger and relief driver; and train passengers Bernice Dougherty, 49, of Great Falls, Mont., and Mrs. Jeanne Marie Brunelle, 58, of 8 Verdon St., Ste.-Therese.
More than 20 of the dayliner's 50 passengers were injured, but police said none of the injuries was serious.
Among those suffering shock or minor and bruises and cuts were Eleanor Pelletier, 748 Borthwick Ave., Ottawa; Pauline Bourgeon, 248 Ethel St., Van-ier; and Phyllis, Rodney and Orin Stanley, all of 13 Wychwood Dr., Aylmer.
Sees wife die
Norbert J. Dougherty, husband of Bernice Dougherty, said he sat in the dayliner helplessly and watched his wife die.
"She was sitting on the side of the train where the train struck. Suddenly she was pitched into the aisle ... I thought she was just knocked out."
"I felt for her pulse and it wasn't there and then I knew she was gone," he said.
Mr. Dougherty and a daughter, Shawn, suffered only shock.
The collision demolished the cab of the truck, but the dayliner stayed on the tracks and came to a stop about half-a-mile from the crossing.
Police said a police cruiser, an ambulance, and finally a tow truck ail became stuck in wet fields as they tried to reach the train.
The ambulances nine arrived to carry injured to hospitals in Lachute and Hawkesbury had to halt 1,000 feet from the train and police and volunteers carried the dead and hurt in stretchers across the soggy terrain.
The accident is being investigated by Quebec provincial police, a 10-man team from Canadian Pacific, and the Canadian Transport Commission.
Police said Coroner Jean Morin of Lachute plans to hold an inquest, but no date has been set.
Calumet is about 55 miles east of Ottawa.
Nobody screamed as truck loomed
MONTREAL (Staff-CP) "It was terrible," 78-year-old Lionel Chevrier recalled in a quiet but excited voice.
"There was broken glass all over the place. It showered all over my wife and me and a great big piece of glass just missed by head."
Mr. Chevrier, a retired farmer bound for Newfoundland to visit relatives when the dayliner was struck by a vegetable truck at a highway 8 level crossing Friday, said he watched the truck approaching the train.
The next thing he remembered clearly was a women lying in a pool of blood on the railcar floor beside him.
"She died right there on the floor," he said.
Mrs. Chevrier, 76, refusing a doctor's help as she was helped from a special train that brought survivors here, said:
"We could see a big truck coming into the side of the car. But the funny thing was nobody screamed.
"A woman fell on the floor in the back of us and bled to death." Mrs. Chevrier told the doctor who asked if she felt alright:
"I've got a big crack on the head but that's okay. I feel more shocked than anything else."
Mrs. Aldege Dumoulin of Calumet, a 74-year-old grandmother, had just boarded the dayliner when the accident occurred.
"I tell you, we had two good drivers," she said.
The impact shook the train and she was surprised it didn't leave the tracks. (Engineer George Franklin of Ottawa and conductor Rene Labelle of Montreal were not injured.)
"We got some glass in our hair," she said. "We were shook up, but it didn't hurt us at all."
Mrs. Dumoulin and her daughter, Mrs. Allan Sanderson of Moncton and Mrs. Sanderson's lo-yearold son Bill, were sitting at the front of the dayliner. The truck hit towards the rear and on the opposite side.
"Nobody yelled, nobody screamed or cried or anything," she recalled. "We kept calm."
"We didn't see it coming. We didn't know what was happening until everything was all over."
From the Ottawa Citizen, 30 August 1972.
Lachute. A young garden product salesman still maintains he saw no warning lights before his truck crashed into the side of a Montreal-bound passenger train at Calumet on Aug. 11
Testifying at a Canadian Transport Commission inquiry here Tuesday, Michael Emery, 23, of Gatineau repeated the story he told immediately after the accident which claimed three lives and injured 26.
Mr. Emery didn't go as far as to say the flashing signals weren't working. He claimed he "didn't see them working." He stated positively the bells which normally ring as the lights flash weren't working before the collision occurred.
However, several witnesses called during the inquiry - which ended late yesterday afternoon - contradicted Mr. Emery's evidence.
Ken Hotchkiss, a Canadian International Paper Company purchasing agent, who travels Highway 8 over the level crossing every morning about the same time, said both lights and bells were working normally when he crossed as the CP Rail dayliner approached.
He said he glanced in his rear view mirror as he crossed and saw no sign of the Emery truck. Commission Counsel J.M. Fortier deduced the accident happened seconds after Mr. Hotchkiss left the scene.
Serge Roy, 16, a student living near the level crossing, said he was in his yard shortly after 9 a.m. and heard the bells on the signal posts ringing.
He added, because of his position, he couldn't see if the lights were flashing. He said he saw the Emery truck coming along highway 8, lost it from view behind some bushes, then saw it collide with the dayliner.
A passenger on the train, Laura Ratchky of Windsor, said she was looking out of the window near the Calumet crossing and saw the warning lights flashing.
Gilbert Blakeney, a CTC signalling engineer, said signals were functioning normally when tested shortly after the accident.
The inquiry, chaired by Louis Talbot, was also greatly concerned at the speed the dayliner was travelling as it came through the crossing.
E.J. Hase, director of operations for the CTC, said a statutory speed limit of 24 m.p.h. at all level crossings where an accident has occurred. He said the limit can only be lifted by the commission.
Although accidents had occurred at the Calumet crossing in the past, there was no speed limit at the time of the crash because previous statutory limits had been lifted. He added the 25 m.p.h. limit had been re-imposed since the Aug. 11 accident.
Veteran CPR engineer George Frankland of Ottawa said he put the throttle of his engine in the maximum position as he pulled out of Calumet station where he'd stopped to pick up two passengers.
Mr. Frankland emphasized when the throttle was placed in maximum the train didn't immediately reach top speed.
"The engine accelerates on its own and takes about a mile to reach its top speed of 90 m.p.h." he said. "We were doing about 45 m.p.h. When we went through the crossing, which is about half a mile from the station."
An unexpected discovery
A commotion stirred the Lachute Masonic Hall, where the inquiry was held, when, under cross-examination by the lawyer representing Mr. Emery, Mr Frankland revealed the train's speedometer wasn't working the day in question.
He said he wasn't aware of the problem until after he left the Ottawa Station, and insisted he was experienced enough to judge how fast he was going without the instrument.
(Mr. Hase testified that during tests made by the commission after the accident an engine identical to the one Mr. Frankland was operating was accelerated out of Calumet under the same circumstances and reached a speed of 44 m.p.h. at the crossing).
Mr. Frankland said the dayliner's speed is only restricted on curves - 60 m.p.h - apart from crossings carrying statutory limits.
He said the train's headlamp was on as it approcahed the crossing and he gave the warning whistle and activated the bell as usual. He said it was a "fine, clear day."
The dayliner was on the crossing when Mr. Frankland first noticed the Emery truck.
He said his first impulse was to pull the emergency brake. Then he decided the best thing to do was get through the crossing and hopefully avoid the truck.
Mr. Emery said he didn't know the train was approaching until he saw it emerge from behind a line of trees when he was about 125 feet away. He said his radio was off and he couldn't remember whether his windows were raised or not.
He said he applied the brakes and swerved but was too close to avoid impact. He said he approached the crossing at a normal rate of speed.
Killed in the accident on the Ottawa-Montreal line were Bernice Doherty, 49, of Great Falls, Mont., Jeanne Marie Brunelle, of Ste. Therese, Que., both passengers in a CP Rail diesel car and Reginald St-Gelais, 24, of Gatineau, a passenger in the truck. None of the injured was seriously hurt.
From the Ottawa Citizen 5 December 1972
The Canadian Transport Commission says evidence indicates a troc-k-train collision at a railway level crossing near Calumet, Que., Aug. 11 was not caused by failure of the automatic signal system.
Three person died and 22 were injured when a truck and a CP Rail dayliner coach collided at the crossing.
The commission said in a report released Monday that it has no authority to look at civil and criminal aspects of the case.
But evidence indicated the signal system was functioning properly and the train was also operating well except for the speed indicator. The truck had struck the train.
The transport commission report said that the only witness to say that the signals were not operating was the driver of the truck, Michel Emery, 23, of Gatineau.
But other witnesses watching from nearbv homes or dnv:ng over the crossing jut before the accident saw the signal lights flashing and heard the bell ringing, the report said.
The signal system was later found to be in working order by commission inspectors, the commission said.
The train braking system was tested and found to be operating properly on the day the accident happened, the report said.
Passengers on the train also heard the train bell ringing, the commission said.