This is one in a series on Manitoba's worst train crashes.
Top: April 24, 1968, Regina Leader-Post (source)
Bottom: Winnipeg Tribune Archives (source)
At 2:45 am on April 23, 1968, a 97-car CN cargo train is about to cross the Birdtail River trestle bridge, about 20 kilometres south of Birtle, Manitoba.
Shortly after the train it began crossing the structure it gave way, sending four engines and 22 cars into the valley below.
Three crew members, all from Saskatchewan, died at the scene. The bodies of engineer Robert Emerson, 50, and trainman Herbert Dagerstedt, 37, were found in the cab of one of the engines 25 metres below the bridge. A fourth, fireman Alfred Varga, 40, managed to jump before the train fell but died shortly after.
The rest of the train's crew were in the caboose and unhurt.
April 23, 1968, Winnipeg Free Press
On April 24, 1968, a coroner's inquest opened in Hamiota, Manitoba under the direction of Dr. J. Edward Hudson. It was immediately adjourned to May 23, 1968 to allow for surviving crew members and CN officials to attend.
CN officials examined the bridge and found charred timbers on the approach to the structure. They testified that the bridge was likely weakened due to a fire started by the brake filings from an earlier train. The crew refuted this claim saying that if they saw a fire burning or smouldering on the track ahead they would have stopped.
In the end, the derailment was ruled accidental.
March 29, 1995, Winnipeg Free Press
Over the decades erosion began uncovering the wreck. The First Nation was concerned that children could end up playing on or around the site so in March 1995 began removal talks with CN. Negotiations broke down over costs. CN claimed it would cost $125,000 while the First Nation estimated it to be $500,000 to $700,000.
Eventually, the Birdtail Sioux excavated the site on their own. In December 2002 the federal Government launched a $1.7m lawsuit against CN on behalf of the First Nation for costs relating to the cleanup.
Robert Emerson, 50, engineer. Yorkton SK. Left a wife and five children.
Herbert Dagerstedt, 37, trainman. Melville SK. Left a wife and two children.
Alfred Varga, 40, fireman. Left a wife, Adeline, and four children.