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Beloeil, QB Train Plunges Through Open Bridge, June 1864

St. Hilaire Train Wreck 6-29-1864.jpg


The City of Cork, which arrived in Liverpool yesterday morning, brings the following details of a fearful railway accident near Montreal:
St. Hilaire, Canada East, June 29. -- The emigrant train, consisting of 11 cars, went over Beloid bridge this morning. It contained 354 German emigrants. Thirty-four bodies have been recovered and between 30 and 40 taken out more or less badly injured. One car has not been sufficiently reached to allow the dead to be taken out from it.
The engineer went down with his engine, but escaped with slight injuries. A dreadful responsibility appears to rest on this man for violating the standing order to stop before going on the bridge. The depth of the water where the accident happened is about 10 feet. The conductor, THOMAS FINN, is killed; the fireman also is supposed to be killed. St. Hilaire is about 19 miles from Montreal.

The following account of the dreadful accident on a Canadian railway appears in our last Canadian exchanges:
St. Hilaire, Station, June 29. -- A serious accident happened this morning about half-past one to an emigrant train from Quebec. The train stopped at St. Hilaire, about one mile from the bridge across the Richelieu River, where there is a swing bridge. The swing bridge was opened about a quarter past one to let a number of barges in tow of a steamer pass. The proper signals were turned before the bridge was opened, and the red light was burning well. The man in charge of the bridge, when he heard the whistle, waved his red hand lamp. The standing orders are, that all trains must come to a full stop before reaching the bridge; this was disregarded, and the train rain into the open draw. A number of emigrants were killed and injured, it is impossible to say how many at present. A large body of men are at work clearing away the wreck. At 8 a.m. thirty-four bodies were recovered
and between thirty or forty taken out more of less injured. The depth of the water in the draw is ten feet.

The following particulars are from the correspondent of the Montreal Gazette, who visited the scene of the disaster:
"Hearing of the accident at St. Hilaire, I left Montreal by a special train about half-past 11 a.m. for the scene of the disaster. On arriving at the bridge we found about one hundred of the Grand Trunk men at hand, with complete apparatus for removing the wreck and recovering the bodies. They were very actively employed. The wounded appeared to be as well provided for as possible in such sheds and buildings as the vicinity afforded. We next proceeded to the fatal place. The draw bridge is about fifty feet high from the water, seventy feet wide, and on this, the north side, close to the shore, the entire length of the bridge is 1,200 feet, and the signal at the draw bridge is clearly perceptible for over 500 feet beyond the furthest abutment of the bridge, making the distance at which the signal could be seen fully 1,700 feet. The signal is very high and prominent.
I have never seen one more so. We were told that the rules of the company make it imperative on all trains to come to a dead stop oon approaching the place. The signal always hung out is the danger signal. It has happened to me to notice in travelling over this road that passenger trains make a dead stop at this place. Had this rule been observed the catastrophe would have been prevented. One minute and a half, in point of time, would have prevented it; for we are informed that a steamer with six barges in tow was in the act of passing through. Four of the six barges had passed through, the train being precipitated on the fifth barge, which was sunk. Had this barge not broken the fall and kept the cars out of the water, many more lives would assuredly have been lost, perhaps none would have been saved. From what I could gather the entire responsibility of the disaster rests with the engine driver, WILLIAM BARNEY. He could not fail, if he had been doing his duty, to have seen the signal when 1,700 feet off, giving him ample space to have stopped the train in accordance with the Company's fixed rule. The night was moonlight and perfectly clear, and the whole face of the country such as could not be mistaken. He had, in fact, stopped at the St. Hilaire Station close by, and could not fail to have known that danger was immediately beyond. Instead of stopping he plunged the train right into the water alongside the barge and so out of sight; the eleven cars were piled on the top of each other in the utmost conclusion. They were all a perfect wreck and some of them were smashed to atoms; in fact it is a wonder to me that so many lives could have been saved after such a fall, down such a terrible abyss at this time. Fifty-six dead of all ages and sexes have been recovered. We could see other dead bodies in the cars which could not then be extricated, owing to the mass of debris. Both sight and sound was sickening, and the impression I never can forget. One poor creature was crying for a child, another for a parent, a young infant was trying to obtain milk from the breast of a dying mother and crying because it could not obtain it. But I cannot go into details of this sort. It was a great source of pain to me, and many, that we could not speak to them in their own tongue, to tell them of the sympathy we felt for them. When we arrived at Point St. Charles the uninjured passengers, to the number of three hundred, were placed in the company's building, and there they were provided with food, lodging, and all possible comforts."

Transcriber's Note: The general consensus I have found on line lists the total dead at 99 with more than 100 injured.

The Cork Examiner, Cork, Ireland 1864-07-16
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article | by Dr. Radut