Details of Railway Accidents in the Ottawa Area

1972, February 11 - 36 cars derail at Morrisburg, Canadian National, Kingston subdivision

From the Ottawa Citizen 12 February 1972

(Note: there were several slightly different versions put out according to the edition)
Triple blast turns railcars into missiles
Morrisburg. A vivid plume of flame rising from the mass of twisted railway cars and smouldering debris has so far thwarted attempts to clear the CNR's main line here.
A derailment of 36 cars occurred about 8.15 a.m. Friday, tearing up hundreds of feet of track and sending boxcars careening down embankments and into the bush.
Three major explosions in tanker cars carrying thousands of gallons of propane gas shook homes as far away as seven miles.
One resident likened the first explosion to an earth tremor.
One of the propane-laden cars weighing between 50 and 60 tons, flew about a quarter of a mile through the air after it exploded.
CNR officials speculted that burning gas escaping from the ruptured tank acted like a rocket.
Swathe in trees
The car lifted off the track and cut a neat swath through the trees - some of which were about 12 inches in diameter at their base.
The trimmed trees indicate that it entered the bush at a height of about 12 feet before rising to about 30 feet above the ground.
The tanker crashed into a service line which joins the main tracks near the scene of the derailment, about a quarter of a mile away.
It then plunged through a wooded area for another 150 feet before coming to rest.  Charred telephone poles located along its line of travel indicated the intense heat.
Pieces of splintered limbs from the trees it had struck littered the lines.  Some had penetrated more than a foot into frozen ground beside the railway lines.
Tankers explode
A total of three tankers exploded within seconds of the derailment which occurred on a straight stretch of line about two miles east of here.
It was from one of these tankers  - lying helter skelter among the other wrecked railway cars that a brilliant orange plume spurted all day Friday.
Fears that the remaining gas in the car might explode, coupled with the knowledge that a fourth propane-laden tanker was also damaged in the derailment, kept recovery crews at a distance.
One CNR spokesperson said crews would wait until the flame went out before attempting to clear the line.  The derailment blocked both east and west lines.  Trains have been rerouted through Ottawa.
The spokesman said he expected the lines here to be blocked until Monday.  Heavy cranes from both Montreal and Toronto were to arrive at the scene Friday afternoon to clear the twisted cars from both sides.
Area sealed off
Within minutes of the derailment police attempted to seal off the area.
Both police and the Morrisburg fire department learned of the explosions by their close proximity to the scene.  The provincial police detatchment was shaken by the blasts.
Firemen succeeded in reaching the remote scene, but could do little to contain the fire.  The fierce heat drove them back as the propane shot flames 100 feet into the cold air.
An inspection of the scene about six hours later, when newsmen were allowed near the potgentially dangerous area, revealed scorched fence posts and melted snow as far as 150 feet from the main line.
A total of about 20 cars caught fire and by early evening were still smouldering beside the hissing propane.
A decision had not been made concerning the remaining propane tanker car which had not ignited.
The eastbound freight train had been hauling 77 cars - 59 of which were loaded with general cargo.
While one ruptured tanker spewed grain onto the scorched tracks, another loaded with fruit and vegetables littered the area with hundreds of burned oranges.
Twisted metal, splintered framed and some of the car's wheels were scattered for about 100 feet along the lines.
Curious area residents travelled by snowmobile and on foot to view the scene.  Police - fearful that another explosion might occur - cleared the area.
Neither the crew in the locomotive nor in the caboose was injured in the incident.  The first car to derail was loaded with steel and was located ten cars behind the engine.
Chlorine gas
The rear portion of the train - including a tanker loaded with toxic chlorine gas - was eventually hauled from the rest of the wreckage by a locomotive sent in from nearby Brockville, one of CN's headquarters.
A police spokesman said an evacuation plan had been drawn up for the people of Morrisburg had the chlorine-laden tanker ruptured.
The only people close to the explosions and derailment were members of a bush party clearing surrounding bush area of dead elm trees.
They reportedly ducked flying chunks of steel as the first propane tanker exploded.
CN officials are continuing their investigation into the derailment as work crews clear the line.
Officials say damage is impossible to estimate, but will run into hundredes of thousands of dollars. 1

From the Ottawa Journal 12 February 1972

TANKERS EXPLODE NEAR MORRISBURG , Flames shoot into the air from three propane tankers which exploded Friday morning following a Canadian National train derailment near Morrisburg. A total of 22 freight cars were destroyed in the fire which followed the derailment. CN officials estimate wreckage will not be cleared until Sunday night. The freight was eastbound for Montreal when the accident occurred. Fragments from the tankers were sent flying after the explosion, but workers near the train at the time of the accident escaped injury.
(Caption to aerial photo)
The village of Morrisburg, 12 miles southwest of Cornwall was shaken by a fiery explosion Friday morning when a Canadian Canadian National freight train was derailed two miles east of the town and three tank cars carrying carrying propane blew up.
No one was injured but it was quite literally an earth-shaking earth-shaking experience for the village of only about 2,000.
Witnesses said that windows shook, doors of. homes were blown open and icicles were, shaken loose from roof-tops. "We were standing here in the office when it happened," explained a mechanic at the Texaco station in Morrisburg. "Everything in the garage was rattling.  We thought it was either a jet breaking the sound barrier or somebody dynamiting. The whole village shook."
Mrs. James McCrank, who lives just one mile from the site of the derailment, said the explosions  shook her house. "I thought the roof was falling in."
The explosions were heard by a resident of Massena New York, 30 miles away.
 About 2,200 feet of track was ripped up.
The 77-car freight train was eastbound for Montreal when the derailment occurred at 8.15 a.m. CN spokesman Walter Smith said that shortly after 36 cars left the track, one of four , propane tankers exploded. Seconds later, two more tankers blew up almost imultaneously, sending flames 100 feet into the air.
One tank car was blown a quarter of a mile into the bush, shearing off the tops of trees as it flew through the air.
Firemen from Morrisburg, Upper Canada Village and Winchester were unable to fight the blaze because of its intense heat. They had to stand back while flames destroyed 22 cars.
A provincial police spokesman said 12 men working a few hundred yards from the wreck had to crawl out of the area on their hands and knees because metal was flying in all directions.
"They were lucky,, he said. "They were so shook up after we took them to a service station that they could hardly talk."
The men were cutting down dead elms as part of a federal winter works project.
The wreckage blocked the CN's main line between Toronto and Montreal. Trains are being re-routed on CPR tracks, through Smiths Falls.
Mr. Smith estimated that it will be Sunday night at the earliest before the main line is cleared.

Ottawa Journal Monday 14 February 1972

Track opens for westbound rail traffic
MONTREAL (CP) Rail traffic wes resumed Sunday on the westbound track of Canadian National Railway's main Toronto-Montreal line following a freight train derailment at Mor- Morrisburg, Ont., Friday. It was not immediately known when the other track would be open. The section was closed Friday following the denaiilmerft of 36 cars of the 98-car westbound train. A few minutes after the derailment several propane cars exploded, rocking the countryside countryside for miles around.

Ottawa Citizen 14 February 1972

'Hot box' seen as key suspect
MORRISBURG Splintered railway ties leading to the scene of Friday's 36-car derailment emerged today as clues to the cause of the crash.
While Canadian National Railways officials are declining comment on the cause, the splintered ties are indicative of what is known by railway workers as a "hot box".
Two boxes, one above and one beneath the axles of railways cars, are grease-filled to lubricate the spinning axle.
It is possible for the boxes to run dry, overheat and cause the axle to seize. The wheels affected on that car then stop turning.
Unofficial sources said the splintered ties along a quartar-mile section of line here indicate a wheel had seized and jumped the tracks.
Speed of the eastbound, 98-car freight train was estimated at 60 m.p.h. at the time of the derailment.
The derailed car, tenth behind the locomotive and carrying about 15 tons of steel, continued to splinter ties until it reached a spur line joining the main track from Seaway Chemicals Limited.
As it hit the junction, it caused other cars to derail and pile atop one another.
A total of three tank cars carrying almost 34,000 gallons of propane gas exploded. One of the cars, weighing about 60 tons, was blown a quarter-mile and reached a height of about 50 feet as it cut a swath through a wooded area.
Neither the five-man train crew nor a dozen bushworkers cutting trees near the accident scene were injured.
A fourth propane tank car was ruptured in the derailment and caused railway officials to delay cleanup operations. It shot flames up to 100 feet in the air.
It was eventually pulled to one side of the lines while crews cleared the main Toronto-Montreal track. A provincial police spokesman said the tank car was still spouting flame today.
The westbound track re-opened about 7.45 p.m. Sunday and the east-bound line was expected to re-open later today.
Trains were rerouted through Brockville, causing delays of up to two hours.

Ottawa Citizen 19 February 1972

Track clear
MORRISBURG (CP) Regular freight and passenger service was restored Friday over a section of CNR track damaged a week ago by the derailment of 36 cars of a freight train.
Both east- and west-bound trains have been using the west-bound lane of the double track since Monday. Clearing and repairing the east-bound track had been delayed by a burning propane tank car which exploded after the derailment.
The derailment occurred near this village 20 miles southwest of Cornwall. Some debris remains at the scene, but the final clean-up is expected to be finished Monday.

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