Full Version: Mississauga Derailment -- 30 years after
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Mississauga, 30 years after

November 10, 1979
Sarnia 07:10 a.m. C&O local 4 leaves with 69 cars, 63 to be interchanged with the CPR at Chatham. Many of the cars are tank cars containing caustic soda, propane, styrene, toluene and chlorine.
The cars are left at Chatham yard at 3:55 p.m.
Windsor 12:45 p.m.. CP train 84 leaves Walkerville yard. The motive power is GO Transit, leased for the weekend. They pick up the C&O cars at Chatham and leave at 6:00 p.m. Train 84 has 102 cars.
At London, train 84 becomes train 54 and receives a new crew. 4 more cars are picked up. At Woodstock, 5 cars are set out and 5 are picked up. The train is now 6,627 feet long and weighs 9,050 tons.
At 11:15 p.m. train 54 passes Guelph Junction, milepost 39.02. This is at the top of the Niagara escarpment and the beginning of a long, steep downgrade. A couple in a car see smoke coming from the train, possibly from a journal box. At this point the train is 39 miles from Toronto. 15 miles farther, at the bottom of the grade, a couple see fire 2 to 4 feet in diameter coming from the wheel. Several more people see flames or sparks.
Around milepost 17.98, the end of the journal of the rear axle of the 33rd car of the train falls to the roadbed. It is red hot. The rest of the axle and the two wheels are found, glowing red, in a backyard.
Another mile and the tank car is tilted about 15 degrees. Sparks are shooting from where the truck is scraping along the ballast. The front wheels of the rear truck have derailed at mp 16.82.
At Mavis road, mp 16.56, the truck meets a trailing switch and is torn from the car. The tanker stops; the following cars turns sideways, and 24 cars are spilled over the level crossing in a space of just over 400 feet. It is a few minutes short of midnight.
Nine of the cars contain propane; one contains chlorine; there are 3 cars of styrene, 3 of toluene, 4 of caustic soda and some boxcars. All the cars originated on train 4 in Sarnia.

“We’re in the big hole, Ted, but still moving.”
“Jesus Christ, Ted, one of them tank cars blew up…”
In the middle of the next city west of Toronto, there are twenty-four cars piled in a heap. Nineteen contain “Dangerous Commodities”. Within half-an-hour three of the propane tankers have exploded; parts of these cars have gone 145 feet east, 440 feet southeast and 2,222 feet northeast. The front of the train has stopped just over a mile away.
Good luck is with us tonight; the train has passed through the town of Streetsville and the derailment is in the middle of an industrial area.
The heat of the fire on the tank cars caused BLEVE’s – Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion. The liquid in the tank cars has been heated to the point it is vaporized and the tank can no longer contain the pressure. Applying Boyle’s law, when the tank ruptures the pressure decreases abruptly and any remaining hot liquid vaporizes instantly, and may shoot the tank a considerable distance.
And in the middle of all this is a tank car of Chlorine. And this tank has a 2 to 3 foot diameter hole in it. The year before, a Youngstown, Florida, a chlorine tanker was punctured in a derailment and 50 tons of chlorine drifted over a highway and killed 8 motorists and their passengers and hospitalized 89.
By Sunday, a large part of Mississauga had been evacuated, as well as bits of two neighbouring municipalities – Burnhamthorpe Road to the lake, from Highway 10 to Erin Mills Parkway/Southdown Road – 17.4 square miles and 75,000 people. The evacuation lasted until Friday.
The spilled cars:
The efforts:
The fire department had hoses on the burning cars for days. The fires were out on Tuesday morning and the chemical team started evacuating the rest of the chlorine from the tank. Up to this point, there was no knowledge of how much chlorine was still in the tank – various chemical reactions had made the measurement of the remain liquid uncertain. There were problems with the patch. On Wednesday they decided to vacuum out the chlorine instead of pressurizing. The operation was completed by Monday.

What happened?
There were no injuries. A few small buildings near the tracks were destroyed. The dreaded chlorine cloud never appeared. The feeling was that the chlorine had been sucked up into the atmosphere in the first few explosions and was never a danger.
Mississauga, an amalgamation of small towns, had spent the week in shelters and felt more like a community.
The Inquiry report recommends:
hot box detectors
rear view mirrors on locomotives
roller bearings on tank cars (and other cars)
double shelf couplings on tank cars
better head shields, thermal protection and better protection for bottom valves.

Most of my information comes from the inquiry report of Mr. Justice Samuel G. M. Grange.
What I left out of the story was the suspicion of the cause. The truck in question had oil axle boxes, i.e. not roller bearing. The cars were checked in Chatham before being added to the CPR train. It was said that the axle box had a lubricating pad in it (to move the oil from the bottom of the box up to the journal) that was a size too big.
There was debate about whether that would matter or not, and whether it had happened. Apparently, at one yard the pads were all separated by sizes except for the two largest which shared a box. The pad itself was burned.
A lot of the recommendations of the inquiry were moot, because the railways were already implementing them. There was some concern that even if tank cars were given roller bearings, the car in front might be something else with plain bearings.

Note that if you modelled this scene in HO, there would be a piece of tank car 25 feet from the wreck site.
The locomotives on the train were GO Transit units, rented to CP for the weekend. They were equipped with rear-view mirrors but CP discouraged use of them for checking back over the train.
The investigation didn't assign any blame, or even try to decide where there was fault; it was for checking procedures ad making recommendations.
I saw a notice last week asking for people with memories of the event to share them at a meeting.
(Is the diagram big enough? I can try to scan it again.)
Another anniversary today.
My mother was there visiting her brother. She brought back a T-shirt saying she survived the derailment. They were all evacuated to some safe place.
That's some story. I love the play by play.
Thanks, e-paw. I tried to pattern it after the style of Red for Danger -- the book of British railway accidents. Most of it was taken from the official inquiry report but I made it a bit more narrative.
I'll bump this story again -- it's now been 35 years.
One note: the woman who was mayor of Mississauga then, and has been since -- Hazel McCallion -- did not run in last month's elections. She's now 93.
Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of this event.