Friday, September 13, 2019

CN Derailment at Millhaven, April 1999

[In light of a recent collision at Millhaven on September 5, the time is ripe to polish and punctually publish this draft post which describes a derailment that happened just over 20 years ago. More on this recent incident at end of post.

"Heard it from a friend who..." If you remember this opening line from REO Speedwagon's 1980 radio smash Take It On the Run, you'll appreciate how I learned about this derailment. I...
  • had a phone call from my brother, who...
  • had a phone call from our cousins in Quebec, who...
  • had a phone call from their son in Quebec, who...
  • had a phone call from his friend on board VIA No 68 stopped at Napanee, Mi 199 Kingston Sub.
What happened to cause all this cross-country communication on the evening of Sunday, April 5, 1999? (Click for a larger version)

CN No 318, at the time a Sunday-only Toronto-Montreal train, was switching at Millhaven/Ernestown, east of Mi 188 Kingston Sub. Just east of CN's ex-Grand Trunk limestone station at Ernestown, CN served a large plastic pellet plant. Cars from the plant were brought to/from  the CN main line at Millhaven. Pushing empties against loads on the south main track, the crew misjudged the distance and two covered hoppers jack-knifed upwards. The cars came down against CN No 321 which was just passing on the north track. Talk about bad timing! Three of 321's cars were knocked off the north track into the north ditch. Now, both north and south main tracks were blocked!

VIA No 68 was held at Napanee, VIA No 49 was held at Kingston. We drove out to find a westbound freight stopped on the north track east of Ernestown (321). Part of a westbound was heading west through Napanee at 2120 (head-end of 321). CN No 367 was behind 321. The power from 318 was used to tow 367 back to Kingston, to Queens to clear the north main track. Light power (probably from 321 - CN engs 5530-5531) were seen eastbound at Napanee at 2125 and westbound west of Ernestown at 2154. 

At Mi 184, we observed CN 5640-5527 eastbound on the north track with 54 cars including CN boxcars 553002 and 598049, Alcan USLX covered hopper, SLGG and SRY hi-cube boxcars, GTW and NS/SOU boxcar and an ETU (likely the tail-end of 367 with 318's power.)


Heading for home, we caught up to the tail-end of CN No 367 near Mile 178. Pulling into the Ministry of Transport licence bureau across from Frontenac Secondary School, there was an audible rushing-air-from-trainline sound. Illuminated in our headlights was 318's conductor walking towards us along the south track, who introduced himself as 'Randy'. Randy had been with CN 33 years, including working on Newfoundland's narrow-gauge. Having been unsuccessful at disconnecting the 'welded-together' airhose, Randy declared "We're not leaving here until we go to Tim Hortons". So it was into our van and across the street to Country Style. We sprung for the crew's coffee and donuts, sensing their night was going from bad to worse. 

Engineer 'Dave' walked back to meet us from the head-end. Dave lived near Marysville, and did training trips on CN's Smiths Falls Sub. Dave wrestled with the airhose as we drove Randy now to Mac's Milk for cigarettes for them and another crew on-site (they paid!). Still unsuccessful, Randy and Dave decided to take affected car CNA 799655 (the other was CNA 598610) two miles east to Queens, along with the tail of the tail-end of 367. We also had a visit from a patrolling Ontario Provincial Police two-man car to see what all the fuss was about!

Driving Dave up to the head-end, we were discussing runthroughs of Montreal's Taschereau Yard by trains like 367. These trains originated on CN's Northern Quebec Internal Short Line (NQISL)'s west end, changing crews at Taschereau on a newly-laid track. Dave noted that the NQISL generated lots of traffic. We'd smelled the pungent fresh-cut spruce and pine emanating from 367's cars. Originating near St Lambert yard, 321 had crossed the Victoria Bridge in Montreal before meeting 318's misadventure at Millhaven.

Dave grabbed more tools from the cab as we accompanied him, noting the onboard computer, electrical cabinet, microwave, fridge, hotplate, nose toilet and sound-insulated cab. Blowing the airhorn before we left, we concurrently activated the engine bell! Driving back to the break, we picked up Randy who'd uncoupled the problem cars, and loaded the two airhose wrenches, carman hammer and prybar into our trunk before heading back to the head-end. Dave and Randy were soon heading east with their charges, and we headed for home at 2335. A dozer was expected to reach the derailment site by 0300 the next day.


The following day, Monday April 5, we visited the derailment site between 0900 and 1200, moving through pastures and swampy territory trackside, walking east from Highway 133, now known as County Road 4, east of our parking spot near Ernestown station. On the way, VIA trains passed us - westbound express at track speed with book-ended VIA 6919-6917, and an eastbound with a 6400 and lots of bell and whistle as it more closely approached the derailment site. At the site, OPP and CN Police cars were visible on the south side, accessible only by a private gravel road from Taylor-Kidd Boulevard. We were hailed by an OPP constable. The three cars in the ditch were right in front of us:
Short covered hopper FMLX 45315 - tank car DOWX 8218 - green CNW 178508 were the derailed cars (above). A Don Hart Construction excavator was onsite, and two bent CELX covered hoppers were visible on the Millhaven lead, just south of both main tracks. Tank cars on the lead with car parts in foreground:
After chatting with the OPP constable, we in turn met intrepid, moustachioed and ginger-haired reporter Tom Steepe from CKWS News in Kingston, also hiking in to the site. We granted a short interview, which got even shorter, becoming a sound-bite on the six o'clock news! 


The following cars were on the north yard lead, from west. Covered hoppers:
  • UNPX 123835, 123921 Procor
  • CELX 51014, 57291, 59841, 57329, 57276
  • UNPX 123901, 123882
  • CELX 59824, 51104, 41098, 51180, 57310, 59870
  • AMCX 5265 (green-belt)
  • CELX 51264, 57218, 57925, 1008, 59888
  • UNPX 123899, 123910
  • CELX 57044, 51251, 59846, 57261, 57302, 57270, 51141
  • UNPX 123875, 123917
  • CELX 59894, 59867, 51374
and tank cars: ACFX 77387 and EOGX 4145 (above). On an adjacent track, covered hoppers AMCX 206322 and 206556 were visible.

While at the site, the following trains passed:
  • 1000 WB No 367 Engs CN 5772-5323 NA Map scheme. About fifty cars back were boxcars CNA 598610, SRY 5291 and SLGG 86401-86424-86428 and Alcan USLX 5201, all from last night's CN No 367!
  • 1030 WB No 312 Engs CN 5633-5356 NA Map scheme-5277 and 124 cars

Local weekly newspaper coverage shows a site photo taken from the 'eight-foot' between north and south main tracks. A better and presumably officially-sanctioned vantage point. The bent covered hoppers are off the lead at right, and the derailed cars north of the north track at left, near our vantage point is marked with a small X. The caption states that both tracks had been open about three hours prior to our visit.
When I visited this location with the CANDO switch crew two years earlier, the crew told us, "Remember, on the far side of those cars is The Main Line!" The dangers of having a switching lead immediately adjacent to two high-speed main tracks became equally evident twenty years and six months later!


On September 5, 2019 a CN crew was switching at Millhaven just before 9 p.m. The plastic pellet plant is no more, but CANDO serves a CoCo Paving asphalt operation as well as a car storage yard and Gibson Gas propane terminal and delivers cars to CN at Millhaven. Errant empty propane tank car UTLX 958006 was struck by VIA No 48. VIA No 650 was following, and stopped to take on the passengers from the stopped No 48, continuing on from its usual destination of Kingston to Ottawa. No 650 made it to Kingston around 0040 on the 6th. Social media reports were contradictory, incomplete and/or just plain wrong. Local online media described the resulting collision:

Initially, there was confusion surrounding the cause of the collision, with Via Rail staff onboard the affected train telling passengers that they had hit a truck, according to Chrystal Wilson, one of the passengers on the eastbound Via train 48.

Responders searched several roadways in the vicinity of the train for signs of a truck or transport trailer, but were unable to find any. Continued investigation revealed that a derailed tanker car, upright but leaning over on a train track in the vicinity of Jim Snow Blvd, had been the cause of the collision which CN described as a VIA train sideswiping an empty tank car that was derailed upright and leaning into the VIA train's path. 

What are the chances of two derailments operating at the same location? Apparently pretty good.

A 'hospital train' was to take the damaged equipment to VIA's Montreal Maintenance Centre. This was likely the locomotive, Business Class car and perhaps a coach. No numbers available at this time.
To the chagrin of many commuters, since VIA No 650 was in Ottawa, not in Kingston, the following morning's VIA No 651 was cancelled. With no alternate transportation offered.

Running extra...

This weekend is the first Napanee Train Show. Held on the same weekend formerly occupied by the Picton Train Show, organizer John Woolhead was showing me his floor plan at this week's Associated Railroaders of Kingston (ARK) meeting. John also has flyers ready for next year's show!

Also at the meeting, Malcolm Peakman gave an engrossing talk on builder's plates (or is that builders' plates or perhaps builder's' plates??). The provenance of the plates is as interesting as the design and industrial history they embody. Andrew Jeanes has an anatomically-correct Hanley Spur HO modular layout in mind. (By comparison, My Hanley Spur layout looks like the picked-over bony remains of a Costco rotisserie chicken after supper). Following Malcolm, Andrew presented solid evidence for each industry and spur contained in his design. Huge wow factor. Inspiration for our ARK modular group! (or is that module group? or modules group??)

Something in my brain always snaps when I see a Kingston Transit Kingston Express bus on a non-express route (or is a non-express bus on an express route equally snap-inducing??) Anyway, here's Kingston Transit 1831 on our local Route 15 on August 31. Blue and beautiful!


Anonymous said...

Who owns the private road leading to the Cando storage yard?

Eric said...

Hi A. The road is privately-owned and gated. It seems to originate on Taylor-Kidd Blvd, heading north to the quarry/wind turbines then continuing on towards the CN Kingston Sub. I imagine originally it was part of the Celanese/C-I-L parcel, but now likely Lafarge or whoever operates the quarry, with CANDO having access to it.

Needless to say, I've never walked it. Though I have thought of it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I've walked it a few times. Even saw CN police down there one time, speaking with a dog walker. Never had any issues.