16, Number 93, October/November 2013 Overcoming “The Night The War Came to Almonte” by Lyle Dillabough
Seventy years later, Ed Muldoon is still seeking closure. He is one of the few known remaining survivors of the infamous Almonte Train Wreck of 1942, a tragedy that has been classified as one of the worst railway disasters in Canadian history. In fact, it is one of the worst disasters to have occurred in Canadian history - period. And, after all of this time, the events of that night remain clear in his memory and now, at the age of 85, he wants to have it all get settled in his mind somehow. He wants to put the ghosts and memories to bed. He wants the haunting to stop.
On the evening of December 27, 1942, a train carrying army troops from western Canada plowed into the rear of the regular scheduled localpassenger train, which was stopped at the station in Almonte. Thirty-nine people were killed, and over 150 more injured. Some have referred to the event ever since as “the night the war came to Almonte”, due to the incredible carnage and horrific scene that was witnessed.
Looking back, there were many reasons why this tragedy occurred and plenty of blame has been spread around over the years. However, in the end, it boils down to a combination that includes weather conditions, neglect, mismanagement and human error. Simply put: one train was moving too slow and the other was moving too fast. There was no one on duty at the station in Pakenham, last stop before Almonte, to warn the driver of the troop train that the local had passed through only a few minutes before. There were no warning lights along the tracks at the out-skirts of Almonte. The boiler of the engine pulling the local was failing. It was the first time that the driver of the troop train had ever piloted a passenger train. And there was just a whole lot of bad luck going down that night.
The ramifications at the time and long since afterwards were immense. A conductor committed suicide. The driver of the troop train never piloted a passenger train again. There were cover ups, attempted cover ups, an official inquiry, lots of denial and much, much more. “Human error” was first given as the “official” cause of the accident. But, most people involved felt that the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) needed to take responsibility for the tragedy, and more to the point, offer up an apology as well.
As for himself, Mr. Muldoon doesn’t care too much about apologies and the like. He just wants to make sense of it all somehow and put it all to rest. He wants to understand why he survived, while the girl beside him, with the metal rod through her chest, didn’t. He wants to know why it took so many hours to get the dead and injured out of the smashed up coaches. He wants to know why the officials from the CPR would have the gall to make them sign waver forms, while they were awaiting transport to hospitals in nearby Ottawa. He wants to know why the town of Almonte or the CPR doesn’t have, what he describes as, a “proper monument” at the site of the crash.