Two trains crashed near Wyoming in one of Canada's worst train accidents

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More than a century before a train carrying crude oil exploded and killed 50 people in Lac-Megantic, Que., a tiny community in central Lambton County was the site of one of Canada's most deadly train disasters.

In a raging evening blizzard Dec. 27, 1902, the Pacific Express passenger train was running late and racing west on the Grand Truck Railroad line from London to Sarnia.

At the same time, a slow-moving freight train lumbered east through the storm to reach the siding at Wanstead so it could allow the passenger train to pass.

A report published days later in the Petrolia Advertiser and Canadian Oil Journal newspaper tells the story of the devastating results when the freight failed to reach the switch in time.

Some 31 people died, and scores where injured, when the two trains slammed into each other near the small community of Wanstead, just east of Wyoming.

The two engines landed in the ditch alongside the tracks and the passenger train's baggage car was thrown on top of the first class coach.

A passenger told the newspaper estimated that 50 people were pinned in the debris.

"The screams, moans and prayers of the injured were heartrending," the unnamed passenger was quoted as saying.

"One poor woman begged that her child be saved as she was dying. The little one was carefully taken from the wreck and will probably recover. The mother was relieved, but only to die in a few minutes."

A fire broke out in some of the cars following the crash but it was said an an old man rallied other surviving passengers to smother the flames with coats and hat-loads of snow.

The passenger train included two Pullman cars where the passengers were said to have largely escaped serious injury.

Rescuers and doctors raced to the scene from Petrolia and other nearby communities to help in the recovery and rescue. That effort included a relief train sent from London carrying a dozen doctors.

"For three hours or more wounded and maimed passengers were pinned underneath the wreckage, crying piteously for help, while they suffered from exposure to the elements," the newspaper reported.

Survivors, and the remains of the dead, were carried back to London by a special train.

"The bodies taken from the wreck were frightfully mangled," the newspaper report said, "some of them almost beyond recognition."

An unofficial list published by the Petrolia newspaper included passengers from Sarnia, Petrolia, Wyoming, Watford, Strathroy and many other towns and cities across Ontario, as well as Chicago and communities in Michigan and Wisconsin.

An even more deadly crash happened at Baptiste Creek, a community in neighbouring Chatham-Kent, in October 1854 when a gravel train collided with a passenger train.

In their 2012 account of the crash, Chatham-Kent historians Jim and Lisa Gilbert said the engineer of the gravel train was told by the night watchman at Baptiste Creek, near what is now Jeannette's Creek, that the passenger train had already passed and the way was safe.

The crash happened just minutes after 5 a.m. in a thick fog, and 52 people were killed.



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