Worst Rail Disasters in American History

Train disasters can cause extensive damage, including human death tolls.
Train disasters can cause extensive damage, including human death tolls.

Rail disasters involve either trains colliding on the same track, trains accidently derailing off the track, or mechanical problems such as boiler explosions. These trains may be carrying either cargo or passengers. Rail disasters can happen for a number of reasons and when they do, generally receive extensive media coverage. This article takes a closer look at some of the worst rail disasters in American history.

The Worst Rail Disasters in American History

Eden Train Wreck

On August 7, 1904, the Number 11 Flyer was headed east from Denver, Colorado to St. Louis, Missouri on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The engineer controlling the train was given a thunderstorm warning and in response, slowed the speed down to between 10 and 15 miles per hour and continued on its way. Just north of Pueblo, Colorado, it crossed the Dry Creek bridge, at the exact moment that a flash flood hit. The rushing water took the front half of the train with it. Of the 100 passengers on board, at least 97 were killed. Reports indicate that 3 passengers and a firefighter managed to escape with their lives. It took 4 hours for the rescue team to arrive and search parties later discovered that several bodies had been carried 22 miles downstream.

This train wreck goes down as the third worst in American history.

The Great Train Wreck of 1918

On July 9, 1918, two passenger trains were traveling along the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway in Nashville, Tennessee. The two trains were the Number 4, leaving Nashville for Memphis, and the Number 1, leaving Memphis for Nashville. The Number 1 train was supposed to arrive in Nashville at 7:10 a.m., but unbeknownst to the other train, it was running half an hour behind schedule. The Number 4 train, scheduled to leave at 7:00 a.m., left on time and collided head on with the Number 1 train on the single track just west of the downtown area. Each train was traveling at speeds of between 50 and 60 miles per hour. The force of the impact sent the cars off the track, killing 101 passengers and injuring another 171.

This rail disaster is sometimes considered the worst in American history, however that spot is reserved for the next accident.

Malbone Street Wreck: The Worst Rail Disaster in American History

On November 1, 1918, an elevated, 5-car train was traveling toward the Prospect Park station via the tunnel below Malbone street in Brooklyn, New York. It entered the tunnel traveling at between 30 and 40 miles per hour, approaching a curve in the track with a speed limit of 6 miles per hour. The speed caused the train to derail, destroying the second and third cars and damaging the first and fourth. The fifth car escaped without damage. The investigation after the accident determined that it had been caused by several factors. The first factor was that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was on strike, leaving a need for train conductors. Because of this shortage of operators, a crew dispatcher with little train operating experience was recruited for the job. Additionally, the train consisted of 3 motor cars pulling 2 trailer cars, which were loaded on top but not at the bottom. This setup was against the standard operating procedure of the time, which required lighter trailer cars to be situated between 2 motor cars. All of these factors came together to cause the worst rail disaster in American history, which claimed 102 lives.

Worst Rail Disasters in American History

´╗┐NameLocationDeath TollYear
Malbone Street WreckBrooklyn, New York1021918
The Great Train Wreck of 1918Nashville, Tennessee1011918
Eden train wreckPueblo, Colorado971904
Ashtabula River Railroad DisasterAshtabula, Ohio921876
Hammond Circus train wreckHammond, Indiana861918
Great Chatsworth train wreckChatsworth, Illinois851887
Woodbridge train wreckWoodbridge, New Jersey851951
Frankford Junction train wreckPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania791943
Kew Gardens train crashKew Gardens, New York781950
Rennert railroad accidentRennert, North Carolina721943
Shohola train wreckShohola, Pennsylvania601864

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