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Date: 02/12/04 11:15
worst US train accident
Author: coachyard


run8 Wrote:
> the 1918 BRT accident in Brooklyn, which is
> considered one of the worst railway accidents
> in the US, if not the worst railway accident altogether.

It might be the worst US rail accident ever, the number is disputed but a minimum of 92 died. During a wildcat strike called by BRT motormen on November 1, 1918 a wooden five car train derailed on a curve on Malbone St. in Brighton Beach. The rescue to stretched over six hours and the victims weren't reached for 45 minutes after the crash because of its difficult location. Dodgers’ owner Charles Ebbets allowed nearby Ebbets Field to be used as a temporary morgue and triage center. Two dozen rail accidents around the world have had greater loss of life than the BRT and Nashville that were months apart in 1918.

July 9, 1918, Nashville, Tenn.: 101 killed in a two train collision near Nashville.

Dec. 12, 1917, Modane, France: nearly 550 killed in derailment of troop train near mouth of Mt. Cenis tunnel.

March 2, 1944. near Salerno, Italy: 521 suffocated when Italian train stalled in tunnel.


This was by far the worst disaster ever to occur on the New York subway system, and the second worst railroad wreck to occur in the United States. The BRT was soon bankrupt, and was ultimately reorganized, in 1923, as the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation, the BMT. And Malbone Street, under which the wreck occurred and because of the fear this name brought to Brooklyn straphangers, was renamed to Empire Boulevard.


An elevated train, consisting of five cars constructed primarily of wood, entered the tunnel portal beneath Malbone Street, negotiating a curve designated to be taken at six miles (9.6 km) per hour at a speed estimated at between 30 and 40 mph (48-65 km/h). The trailing truck of the first car derailed, and the two following cars completely left the tracks, tearing off their left-hand sides and most of their roofs. The first and fourth cars sustained relatively minor damage, while the second and third cars were severely damaged, the third so badly so that it was dismantled on the spot. The fifth suffered no damage at all. The motorman was not injured, and left the scene of the accident.


2 November 1918
Brooklyn Standard Union

Casualty List of Flatbush Horror Grows Hourly -- HYLAN Calls on District Attorney LEWIS to Bring Criminal Proceedings At Once. COURT HOLDS DISPATCHER WHO OPERATED THE TRAIN Practice of Using Green Motormen Bitterly Denounced -- Prosecutor Takes Charge of Wreckage -- Mayor Sits in Flatbush Court.

LEWIS Finally Located.

The man proved to be Edward Anthony LEWIS, 25 years old, of 160 Thirty-fourth street. He was located and placed under arrest by Detectives McCARTHY and REULING and taken to the Flatbush stationhouse....

At first the motorman refused to make any statement, but when pressed in the magistrate's room he told a startling story.

When LEWIS was arrested his young wife collapsed. When she came to she said there was a Friday hoodoo hanging over her husband. Three weeks ago yesterday, she said, her husband was stricken with influenza. The next Friday her baby died and yesterday this terrible accident occurred. According to LEWIS' statement, which was given out by the police, he went to work yesterday morning at 5 o'clock as a train dispatcher on the Culver line and worked until late in the afternoon. He was told to take out a train at 5:15 and run it to Manhattan. He did so, but according to the police, LEWIS told his superiors before he went out with the train that he had never been out alone before.

Didn't Understand Car.

On four previous days, according to his statement, he had made trips, always accompanied by an experienced motorman. He told the District Attorney he did not understand the mechanical construction of his car and had no technical knowledge about running a train. He left Manhattan with his train about 6 o'clock last night, he said, and when he reached Franklin avenue and Fulton street, he missed a switch. He was forced to back his train onto the right track, and in doing so lost ten minutes.

After he had straightened himself out he made a stop at the Park Place station. When he passed Consumer's Park station he acknowledged he was running his train at 30 miles an hour. He tried to check the speed of his train, but could not, he said. He applied the air brakes, but they would not work. After the crash came, he said, he assisted several injured passengers to leave the train, but when he was confronted with the mangled bodies of the dead the horror of it sickened him. He could not stand the sight and went to the Culver depot, where he changed clothes.




Date: 02/12/04 11:19
Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway-1918...
Author: ConductorAl

I don't have the time at the moment, but will post information from the accident investigation later this evening. Definately the worst steam road accident and one that should not have occurred.

Date: 02/12/04 11:37
worst US/Nashville
Author: coachyard


Worst US Rail Disasters

July 9, 1918, Nashville, TN: 101 killed in a two-train collision
Aug. 7, 1904, Eden, CO: 96 killed when a train derailed on a bridge during a flash flood
March 1, 1910, Wellington, WA: 96 people were killed when two trains were swept into a canyon by an avalanche
Nov. 1, 1918, Brooklyn, NY: 92 killed in a New York subway train which derailed in a tunnel in Brooklyn
Feb. 6, 1951, Woodbridge, NJ: 85 killed when a Pennsylvania RR commuter train plunged through a temporary overpass
Nov. 22, 1950, Richmond Hill, NY: 79 killed when a Long Island RR commuter train crashed into the rear of another in New York's borough of Queens
Dec. 16, 1943, Rennert, NC: Two Atlantic Coast Line trains derailed near Rennert, N.C., killing 72 people.
Sept. 22, 1993, Mobile, AL: 47 killed in the worst accident in Amtrak history. The Sunset Ltd. plunged into a bayou while en route to Miami from a weakened bridge that had been rammed by a barge minutes earlier
Oct. 30, 1972, Chicago IL: 45 killed when two IC commuter trains collided during morning rush hour
Jan. 1, 1987, Chase MD: 16 killed when an engineer drove three linked Conrail engines through a closed track switch and into the path of an Amtrak train


The Great Nashville Wreck of 1918

"That Mournful Sound"

July 9, 1918

The Union Station was crowded on the early Tuesday morning. Most railroad stations were during World War I, transporting soldiers and workers to plants geared up for war. The Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis train No.4 was preparing for its trip toward Memphis.

Willis M. Farris, an honored Nashville citizen who made the lumber industry here famous the world over, went to take a seat. A young bookkeeper, seeing the older man, offered Farris his seat, which he graciously took in the crowded car.

At the same time, Robert D. Corbitt, the brakeman for the east-bound No.1 heading to Nashville from Memphis, decided for no particular reason to check out the rear of the train. That train was packed with passengers, many of them workers traveling to the DuPont plant in Old Hickory.

Among them was 18-year old George Scott, scared of the large, bustling crowd of strangers on his first trip away from home. He was headed to Nashville to play his part in the war effort, producing powder at DuPont.

An irritating vision kept awakening him on that night train from Memphis. Something horrible was going to happen. At 6 a.m. he left his seat and went to the passenger car behind his and, for no reason he could recall, he pulled the shade and waited.

The decisions made that morning would be played out for generations by survivors of the dead and descendents of the living.

Running late

The veteran engineers on both these trains were running late that morning. Engineer David Kennedy pulled his No.4 out of Union Station at 7:07 a.m., seven minutes late, while No.1 was chugging in from the west, 35 minutes late.

No.1 had the right of way so it was the trainmen of No.4 who had to keep a lookout for No.1 running past them on the double tracks heading into Union Station. If they didn't see No.1 before hitting a 10-mile stretch of single track west of the city's center, they must stop. Once passing that track fork, there was no going back.

As the trains rumbled forward, tower operator J.S.Johnson showed train No.4 a green sign from the tall, wooden tower, which ment all was clear. As he stopped to record it, "No.4 passed tower 7:15 a.m." his hand froze. He could find no entry that No.1 had passed. Johnson reported to the dispatcher who telegraphed back. "He meets No.1 there, can you stop him?" Johnson blew the emergency whistle but no one stood at the rear of doomed No.4 to hear it.

"Along about 6 that morning something kept tellimg me that something bad was going to happen," Scott told Nashville songwriter Bobby Braddock in 1983. Braddock had become fascinated with the event on Duchman's curve and interviewed survivors, such as Scott, on tape. "So about 6 that morning I came out of that coach, into the front of this coach. Instead of leaning over trying to get a little rest, I pulled the shade down over the glass."

Train No.4 snaked around the curve, blind to what was ahead, as No.1 approached the White Brige Road area. "He told me he was riding in the engine like he normally did," says Thomas Vester of Nashville, a nephew who was raised by Robert Corbitt, brakeman on No.1 that morning. "But he went to the rear of the train. Something just told him to go back there."

The end of the curve approached and the trains each chugged upwards at 60 miles per hour. A horrible sight appeared around the blind corner.

Two trains, one track.

Kennedy wildly pulled the brake lever. It was too late.

Oh my God!

The two 80-ton engines met, causing an explosive sound heard two miles away. The ground quaked and the waters of nearby Richland Creek trembled. The wooden cars crumbled and hurled sideways, hanging over the embankment. One train telescoped the other.  Scott was hurled across the train car. He got up shaken and saw people laying about, "blood running everywhere." "I had to raise up the window and the glass was falling all over everywhere," he said through sobs, "and finally I got out of there... And I wandered out past a cornfield, best I can remember, and I run across one of the trainmen laying there. Every time he was breathing, blood run out of his mouth. It done knocked me down ... It wasn't long and here come a truck full of 10 tubs to pick up the body parts. You couldn't tell one part of the bodies from another. They were just all cut to pieces."

Scott could barely be heard on Braddock's recorded tape as he described the fate of the young woman and child he say across from the first train car. The woman's arm had been ripped off and had stuck into the baby. For the next three days he was in shock, walking around Nashville with blood covering his clothing.

Frank Fletcher heard the explosion from his home in West Nashville. The 14-year-old was summoned by his father to check out what had happened. Together they arrived early on the scene. Fletcher talks slowly over the telephone from his Nashville home, gathering up the memory of what happened next. His father ran down the bank to the wreck, while he stayed perched on the bridge.

"My father was horrified. He went down there and attempted to raise the car to relieve some of the victims who were under pressure." Many were dead or dying. Willis Farris had died and the young bookkeeper who surrendered his seat survived, according to Rachel Farris of Nashville, Willis Farris' granddaughter.

In the years to follow, the faces of those trapped in cars haunted many, including Fletcher. One of the cars was standing at an angle. This man must have been standing in the door and all I could see was his legs hanging out the doorway," Fletcher says. "The other thing I remember was a hand pinched under the car. The man was stuck there with two dead men on his lap. He was hollering, 'Oh my God! Oh my God!' Nobody could do anything to help him."

Fletcher vomited and would look no more. Among the bodies was Robert Corbitt, who lay motionless. "They took him to the morgue," says Vester, Corbitt's nephew. "They were ready to embalm him. Then he moved."

Corbitt was transported to the hospital swamped with the injured and near dying. Doctors were sent to cut his leg off. "But mama said it was better than no leg at all," Vester recalls. Corbett lived out his life working on the railroad until retirement. Doctors managed to fix his leg so he even walked without a limp. Only a metal plate in his head marked the wreck. He survived another train accident in 1951 by jumping from the train.

The aftermath

As many as 50,000 "spectators" came to the track throughout that day, hearing the moans of the dying and watching horse-drawn "dead wagons" stacked with bodies head for overcrowded funeral homes. Coffins, wrote the newspaper accounts then, were "stacked like cordwood."

The final death tolls are still disputed. Officially, the Interstate Commerce Commission, in those days the investigative body for railroad accidents, listed the dead at 101. At least as many were wounded. "Embalmers," it was written, were brought in from surrounding towns. African-American family members from points west descended on Nashville to find their loved ones. It was first reported that almost 80% of the victims were black workers from Memphis and Arkansas, crammed into the wooden cars, but that figure was later disputed as too large.

The catastrophe, the worst in U.S. railroad history, fell off the front page within three days. Some writers have since speculated that World War I was too dominant a story for much of the nation to bother over a train wreck. The question still remains: Just what happened?

ICC officials questioned railway workers afterward. the proceeding's notes were taken by the late Ernest Jones Sr., who supplied to the The Tennessean  in 1983. Jones said the early morning confusion at the Union Station caused Kennedy to think train No.1 had passed when it was simply another switch engine hauling empty cars. Kennedy was found at the wreck with the train scheduled folded under his body. William Floyd, the engineer of No.1, died on his last day before retirement.

Soldiers were found with notes to their mothers, grandfathers with pictures of their grandchildren. The scattered letters from the mail car were sorted among bits of flesh and bone. Scott was sent back to Memphis with $50 from the railroad. He never could remember the three days following the wreck. And he felt guilt over his survival while the little baby died.

Farris' sons received money from a settlement from the death of their father, whose body they carried up the railroad bank that day in agony. Out of the bleak tragedy, one son's life course was changed. Frank Farris Sr., used his settlement as seed money to start Third National Bank, according to Frank Farris Jr., his son. Farris, Sr. became a leader in the banking business in the south and the bank later merged with SunTrust Bank.

Date: 02/12/04 13:43
Re: worst US rail disasters
Author: symph1

The Ashtabula, Ohio bridge collapse in 1876 killed around 90. I wonder why it's not on this list.

Date: 02/12/04 14:49
Not in the US but in the USSR
Author: parts545

Back about 10 to 15 years ago there was a pipe line that broke near Siberia filling a valley with fuel and 2 crowded passenger trains met at the broken pipe and sparks from the overhead centenary set off a blast that killed at least 600
The pipe line operator had lost pressure and instead of shutting the pumps down he increased the pressure creating a lake of fuel.
Many were burned beyond recognition.

Date: 02/12/04 16:10
Re: Not in the US but in the USSR
Author: ChS7-321

parts545 Wrote:
> Back about 10 to 15 years ago there was a pipe
> line that broke near Siberia filling a valley with
> fuel and 2 crowded passenger trains met at the
> broken pipe and sparks from the overhead centenary
> set off a blast that killed at least 600
> The pipe line operator had lost pressure and
> instead of shutting the pumps down he increased
> the pressure creating a lake of fuel.
> Many were burned beyond recognition.

Read a short "memo" about this accident some time ago. Few comments:

1)This definitely happened post-Soviet Russia. (1993 or 1994)
2)The two trains were the reverse sections of one route.
3)600 seems a little too high for the number KILLED. I will try to find out more.

Date: 02/12/04 20:04
Re: Not in the US but in the USSR
Author: ConductorAl

Basically, the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway collision was the result of poor operating practices. While conducting their investigation, the ICC inspectors learned that the train and engine crews and operators at Shops Junction had not been observing a company bulletin that forbid westbound trains from leaving Shops Junction unless the engineman went to the tower to check the train register to determine that all eastbound trains had arrived REGARDLESS of the signal indication displayed (this signal also served as a train order signal). Instead, the crews had gotten in the practice of proceeding on the operator's word that all trains had arrived instead of stopping and checking the train register themselves (as the rules required). In the ICC report, the towerman and enginemen of No. 4 were found at fault for the actions previously mentioned while the conductor of No. 4 was faulted for delegating the responsibility of looking out for No. 1 to his inexperienced flagman. A contributing factor was that the line on which the collision occurred (like most of the NC&StL system) did not have a block system in place. It should be noted that at that time, there had been other head on collisions on the NC&StL at other locations for similar reasons. Ironically, the locomotives involved in this collision were sister locomotives Nos. 281 and 282.

Date: 02/13/04 02:58
Re: worst US rail disasters
Author: csxt4617

symph1 Wrote:
> The Ashtabula, Ohio bridge collapse in 1876 killed
> around 90. I wonder why it's not on this list.

There was a wreck on the old L&N on July 6, 1944 of a troop train that killed 35 (33
troops and the engineer and fireman) near Jellico TN. Sort of have a personal
connection to this one, as my dad's stepdad was one of the troops who died.

Date: 02/13/04 05:11
Re: worst US rail disasters
Author: gladhand

csxt4617 Wrote:
> symph1 Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > The Ashtabula, Ohio bridge collapse in 1876
> killed
> > around 90. I wonder why it's not on this
> list.
> There was a wreck on the old L&N on July 6,
> 1944 of a troop train that killed 35 (33
> troops and the engineer and fireman) near Jellico
> TN. Sort of have a personal
> connection to this one, as my dad's stepdad was
> one of the troops who died.

A book (She Jumped The Tracks) by John P. Ascher investigates this accident. Purchased a copy from him on an N&S fall foliage excursion in 1994.

Date: 02/13/04 07:44
Re: worst US rail disasters
Author: rresor

One other result of the Malbone Street wreck was that New York State outlawed the operation of wooden cars in the subway. BMT's wood cars were thus restricted to the Brooklyn "els", some of which (Myrtle Ave., for example) wouldn't support steel cars.

Eventually the els that remain in service were strengthened to support steel cars.

Two former BMT wood cars still remained when I worked at NYCT in the 1980s. They were at Coney Island, nicely painted in gray and cream. I suppose they're in the Transit Museum now.

The curve where the derailment occured is still an active route. The Franklin Avenue Shuttle operates from Fulton Street to Prospect Park on the Brighton Beach line. The southbound shuttle track enters a tunnel, ducks under the Brigton Line, and curves sharply to reach the southbound local platform at Prospect Park. That's where the derailment occurred.

The Fulton Street el to which the Franklin Avenue line connected is gone, replaced by the Independent Subway (built 1940) under Fulton Street. There is still a free transfer available from el to subway.

Date: 02/13/04 11:30
Re: worst US rail disasters
Author: AMW Engr

How about Mobile Alabama, 1993???

Date: 02/13/04 19:52
Re: worst US rail disasters
Author: csxt4617

AMW Engr Wrote:
> How about Mobile Alabama, 1993???

ummm, it was in the list already mentioned.

Date: 02/16/04 18:42
Re: worst US rail disasters
Author: InsideObserver

>July 9, 1918, Nashville, TN: 101 killed in a two-train collision

This is the worst /raidroad/ accident to date in terms of fatalities. One train overran a meeting point at the end of double track, and the other collided with it head on within the Nashville City limits. This happened during WWI, so news about it was rather hushed up. The aforementioned subway one is the worst /transit/ accident.

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