The 1917 Hamilton King St Station GTR/HSR Collision
On Sunday, January 28, 1917 a Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) freight train of 17 empty cars left the Stuart Street yards in Hamilton at about 1:30 PM, bound for Hagersville to pick up horses for the Canadian Army from the Michigan Central Railway. The train’s route was east along the GTR mainline to Ferguson Avenue, south on the Ferguson Avenue tracks to the base of the escarpment and then up the escarpment on the long eastbound grade, eventually reaching the top near the head of the Red Hill Creek Valley, then on to Caledonia and across the Grand River to Hagersville.
The Ferguson Avenue tracks were at level grade with the streets that crossed at right angles, such as Barton, Cannon, King and Main. These tracks had been built in 1873 by the Hamilton & Lake Erie railway as part of their line between Hamilton and Port Dover. The H&LE became part of the Hamilton & Northwestern railway in 1876, which became part of the Northern & Northwestern railway in 1879, which became part of the GTR in 1888.
By the 1880s the blocking of streets by passing trains had become a problem to pedestrians, personal vehicles and streetcars. In 1917 the Ferguson Avenue tracks crossed the tracks of the Hamilton Street Railway at Barton and at King Streets, and the tracks of The Hamilton, Grimsby, & Beamsville Electric Railway (HG&B) on Main Street. (The original tracks of the The Hamilton Radial Electric Railway (HRER) on Wilson St were by this point used for out-of-service moves only, and the cars of the HRER used the King St HSR tracks.)
After a collision in 1915 between a car and a GTR freight train, signalman’s towers were installed at Barton and at King Streets, in order to regulate movements. A derail was placed at the base of the tower to block streetcars. However, the tower was not manned on Sundays. The GTR’s policy was that on days when the tower was not manned, engine crews were to send a crewmember ahead of the train and red flag the intersections.
Because of the long grade up the escarpment, the train was double headed, with locomotive GTR #2395 in front followed by GTR #2144. This second engine would be cut off at the top of the grade at Glanford station and sent back down to the Stuart Street yard. The train was under the charge of conductor Herbert Flood, with Lewis Barry* as engineer of #2395 and Thomas Michael was engineer of #2144, with James Bulst as his fireman.
GTR #2395 was a 2-6-0 locomotive, built by the GTR at the Pte. St. Charles shops in Montreal and entered service in June 1880. Originally numbered #444, it was renumbered in 1898 to #836, renumbered again in 1902 to #656, renumbered again in 1904 to #478, and was given the number #2395 in 1910.
GTR #2144 was a 4-4-0 locomotive, built by the Rhode Island Locomotive Works of Providence, RI and entered service in October 1872 with the Great Western Railway as #195. When the GTR bought the GWR in 1882, it was renumbered to GTR #748. It was renumbered in 1898 to #368, renumbered again in 1904 to #310, and was given the number #2144 in 1910.
As the GTR train headed south on the Ferguson Street tracks, HSR streetcar #435 was heading westbound on the Belt Line route, with James Kelly as motorman and William Smith as conductor. Built by the Preston Car Company in 1912, HSR #435 was a double ended, double trucked streetcar, and was carrying 35 passengers.
At 1:50 PM, GTR #2395 collided with HSR #435 at the intersection of King & Ferguson. The streetcar was lifted by the locomotive's pilot, which tore off the front vestibule of the streetcar. The impact spun HSR #435 forty-five degrees, and it came to rest on the southeast corner of King and Ferguson, facing southwestwards. Due to the momentum from the moving train, the two locomotives continued moving for several more meters. GTR #2395 was knocked off the rails, and crashed through the empty signalman’s tower, destroying it completely. It then crashed into the King St station, demolishing the platform and east wall of the ladies waiting room before finally coming to a stop, facing westwards. GTR #2144 also derailed, coming off the tracks on the east side and coming to rest against a large billboard.
None of the GTR personnel were injured in the impact. However, eight people on HSR #435 suffered injuries. Motorman Kelly and conductor Smith were injured, along with six passengers; Robert Reader, Fred Pasel, Robert H. Hooper, John S. Drysdale, John Roderick, and C. Martin. Kelly, Smith, Reader and Pasel were all hospitalized, but were released by that evening with the exception of Kelly, who was released a few days later.
A large crowd of onlookers hampered clean up until the Hamilton police ordered the area sealed off. The wreckage was removed and all lines reopened by 6 PM.
The Hamilton police launched an investigation into the crash that evening. On February 8, both the GTR and HSR crews were summoned to court on charges of negligence. The police charged that since there was no signalman on duty, both crews were responsible for having failed to stop at the crossing, and only proceeding when it was confirmed that the coast was clear. On February 12 Magistrate Jelfs referred the case to the county court.
The trial began on April 24. Evidence was submitted that not having a man on duty on Sunday had been standard practice for several years, and that when not active the signals were locked so as to warn any GTR trains to stop. GTR train orders were also submitted showing that when approaching a crossing of this type with no signalman on duty, the train was to stop and a member of the train crew was to walk to the crossing and halt traffic before letting the train proceed.
Barry testified that he had attempted to stop the train by shutting off the steam and applying the brakes, but the second locomotive did not apply its brakes. Barry admitted to not communicating his intentions to the crew of #2144. Barry also admitted that he had been on duty for 14 ½ hours the previous day, getting off work at 3:40 am that morning. GTR policy was that Barry should not have worked again until Monday, January 29, but had been called in due to a shortage of drivers due to wartime conditions.
Motorman Kelly testified that he did not see or hear the train until the collision. He had no knowledge that there would not be a signalman at the crossing on a Sunday, and that as he could see that the derail had not been set, he did not attempt to stop.
Based on this evidence Judge Snider ruled that Barry was guilty of negligence for failing to follow orders and bring the train to a stop before proceeding. While Flood had been in charge of the train, he was judged to be not guilty as he was in the train's caboose at the time of the accident, and was unable to affect the motion of the train. Kelly and Smith were also acquitted.
On April 27, 1917 Lewis Barry was sentenced to 2 months in jail for negligence. However after a public appeal and a petition signed by hundreds of Hamiltonians, including the Mayor and four of the city Controllers, Barry was released on May 22.
Author's note: Based on the court testimony, I suspect that the fault more properly lay with the GTR and its wartime operations. Barry was likely fatigued from his long shift and lack of proper rest before being asked to take out another train, as shown by his failure to react properly to slow down the train and communicate with others. Faced with high demand for trains and a loss of employees to military service, the GTR was cutting safety margins by asking, let alone letting Barry take on another shift.
None of the motive power was critically damaged, and all three pieces were repaired and returned to service. GTR #2395 served the Grand Trunk until the railroad’s bankruptcy and incorporation into the Canadian National Railway in 1923. GTR #2395 was renumbered as CNR #543, and remained in service until December 1925, when it was sold for scrap.
GTR #2144 was quickly repaired, and was almost involved in another collision at the same location on May 3. HSR #420 had hit the derail, but the streetcar did not immediately dewire and the still running electric motors continued to move the streetcar forwards even though it was off the track. The pole eventually came off the wire and the streetcar stopped, but not until it came within 2 feet of the train's path. #2144 also served until 1923, however the CNR did not accept the locomotive into its service, and it was scrapped in 1923.
HSR #435 remained in service for another two decades. It was not converted to one-man operation in 1929, but remained in service as a two-man car until 1936.
The two structures damaged in the wreck had different fates. The signalman’s tower that was demolished in the wreck was replaced with a shanty, and was used for several years until the early 1950s.
The King street station suffered serious damage from the collision, but due to the GTR’s deteriorating finances leading to its bankruptcy in 1919 only minor repairs were made. After the GTR was merged into the CNR, a new station was proposed to replace the King St Station. This was never built, due to disapproval over the initial design and continued opposition from city council over trains stopping on Ferguson. The CNR later decided to build a new Hamilton station at James and Stuart. When this new station opened in 1931, the old King St station was demolished.
GTR #2395 imbedded into the GTR Hamilton King St station. From the amount of steam still around the engine, this photo was likely taken within a few minutes of the crash. (From the collection of Brenda Robinson, used with permission.)
The tender of GTR #2395. Notice the large plume of steam still around the engine on the left, and the smashed watchman’s tower. (From the collection of Brenda Robinson, used with permission.)
The side of GTR# 2144 and HSR #435. Notice the front of the streetcar has been ripped clean off and is resting against the pole. (From the collection of Brenda Robinson, used with permission.)
HSR #435 and GTR# 2144, as seen from the second storey window of the building on the NE corner of King & Ferguson. Photo by Stan Aikin, from Hamilton: Panorama of Our Past, pg 18.
HSR #435 and GTR# 2144, as seen from the second storey window of the building on the NE corner of King & Ferguson. At first glance this photo looks identical to the previous one, but it's not. The angle is slightly different, and some of the people in the crowd have moved. It must have been taken within seconds of the previous photo. (From the collection of Brenda Robinson, used with permission.)
GTR #2395 imbedded into the GTR Hamilton King St station. Most of the steam is gone, so it's easier to see details. (From the collection of Brenda Robinson, used with permission.)
GTR #2395 later in the day. The Hamilton police have cordoned off the area, and there's no more steam leaking out of the engine, so some time has passed, but there's no sign of the crew or equipment to clean up the wreck. The fact that the smokestack has gotten wedged in the roof rafters is probably what brought the engine to a halt and prevented further damage to the station. The roof of the signalman’s tower is just below #2395’s cab, and the rest of the tower is the debris underneath the tender. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives)
Looking north on Ferguson at King in the summer of 1931. The signalman is letting an HSR streetcar cross the tracks before halting traffic so the approaching train can pass through. The replacement signalman's shanty is on the left. (Photo by H.Wilhelm)
*Newspaper accounts vary as to the spelling of the name, with Lewis/Louis and Barry/Barrie appearing. This article uses the spelling 'Lewis Barry', as this was the spelling used in the articles reporting on the trial, under the assumption that this is how the name was spelled on court documents.
"Eight Injured When Engine Smashed Car", January 29, 1917, pg 1
Cooper, Charles. Hamilton's Other Railway The Bytown Railway Society, Ottawa, 2001
Edson, William D. and Corley, Raymond F. "Locomotives of the Grand Trunk Railway" The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin #142 (Autumn 1982), pg 42-183
Hamilton: Panorama of Our Past The Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society, Hamilton, 1994
Henley, Brian. Hamilton Back Then North Shore Publishing, Burlington, Ontario, 1998
Osbaldeston, Mark. Unbuilt Hamilton Dundurn Press, Toronto, 2016