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Friday, 20 September 2013

Manitoba's Worst Train Disasters: Winnipeg (1906)

This is one in a series on Manitoba's worst train disasters.

1906 Winnipeg Train Crash
On November 29, 1906 a bizarre series of events ended in the death of four people in the CNR's East Yards in Winnipeg.  

At 3:50 p.m. a Northern Pacific Railway passenger train was just kilometres away from the Winnipeg CNR passenger depot at the Manitoba Hotel at Main Street and Water Avenue, (it would be another six years before Union Station was built.) At the same time, a lone freight engine was reversing out of the CNR East Yards (now known as The Forks) en route to the West Yards (Fort Rouge) to pick up cars.

November 30, 1906, Winnipeg Tribune

As both trains neared the foot of Spadina Avenue, (now Stradbrook Avenue), their crews realized that they were on a collision course, but it was too late.

The passenger train received the most damage. Windows broke and its front set of wheels were derailed. The crew and passengers received a heavy jolt but there were no serious injuries. People either walked or took streetcars to the passenger station.

The crew of the freight engine were also spared as they had jumped for safety into the snow drifts along side the tracks. The engine sustained damage to its coal tender.

That should have been the end of the incident, but it wasn't.

The heavy jolt "popped" the freight engine's transmission into "forward" and it began travelling back to the yards. Due to the snow drifts, the crew could not jump back on board. A switchman in the yards saw the engine returning but didn't think anything of it. He just switched it to a side track and gave the signal to slow down and come to a stop. Of course, it didn't.

Ahead on that same track a crew of nine men were loading an industrial cement mixer onto a freight train. The runaway engine struck the end of the train at a speed of about 10 kph. The cement mixer shifted and train cars buckled, some spilling onto Water Avenue.

November 30, 1906, The New York Times

One worker, Michael Mudlow, was killed instantly. The crew supervisor, William Neal, died a few minutes later as he was about to be rushed to hospital. A number of men were seriously injured, some of them crushed between rail cars. Two of them, John Suttice and Tony Oleson, died over the next 48 hours from extensive internal injuries. All of the dead were employees of the construction company that was loading the mixer.

As bad as the accident was, it could have been much, much worse. If the switch had not been thrown as the engine entered the yards it would have continued on to the dead-end at the passenger station where hundreds of people were awaiting the arrival of the passenger train stuck back at Stradbrook Avenue.

 December 4, 1906, Manitoba Free Press

The coroner's jury was told by the supervisor who dispatched the freight engine from the East Yards that he thought there was still plenty of time for it to get to Fort Rouge. The passenger train, after all, was already two hours late and according to his estimation should have been entering the city limits at the time.

The inquest concluded on December 3, 1906. The jury found the accident to be "...the result of the extreme negligence of the Canadian National Railway Company."  It recommended that the railway post an employee at the Portage Junction, (near Jubilee Avenue), with a direct communications link to the yard office to inform them when a train has passed. They also recommended that double track be laid between the East and West Yards. 

The Dead:

Michael Mudlow, "Polish immigrant", died at the scene. He left a wife back in Poland and is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery.

William Neal, 48, 23 Martha Street. Died en route to hospital. He left a wife and four children.

John Suttice, Pritchard Avenue. Died the following day in hospital surrounded by his wife and mother. He had a small child.

Tony Oleson, 30, 125 Gladsone Street. Died two days later from massive internal injuries.He left a wife and at least two small children, one was less than a month old.

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