1928 Times Square derailment
During the evening rush hour on August 24, 1928, an express subway train derailed immediately after leaving the Times Square station on the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line. Sixteen people were killed directly, two died later, and about 100 were injured. It remains the second-deadliest accident on the New York City Subway system, after the Malbone Street Wreck.
At 5:09 p.m. on Friday, August 24, 1928, the last two cars of a ten-car downtown express train, consisting of all-steel cars, were derailed when a faulty switch moved, and the ninth car hit a wall and pillars on either side of the track and split in half; the rear was telescoped by the last car while the front remained attached to the train and was dragged for 100 or 200 feet (30 or 61 m), when it and the eighth car turned over. Short-circuiting started a fire. A witness in one of the damaged cars spoke of hearing "a terrific grinding noise" then seeing "the car behind ours rip right through a steel pillar". Morris De Haven Tracy of the United Press wrote an account of the long feared disaster on the New York subways that had left the city "still dazed":
[The eighth car] "split the switch," and before the passengers jammed within it could raise their cries of terror it was skidding half sideways down the track.
A hundred feet farther on it crashed into one of the great steel pillars which keep the street above from tumbling in upon the tunnels.
It sheered off the pillar, tore loose from the forward seven cars, split itself in two and part of it hurtled forward, tossing passengers against stanchions onto the track, under the wheels of the cars, against the sides of the tunnel, and piling them up in masses on what was left of the car floor.
Sixteen people were killed on the spot and 100 or more injured. Additional victims died the following day and on the 26th, as did Jennie Lockridge, an actress who had had a heart attack after seeing victims' bodies. One victim was misidentified; the man returned home two hours before his funeral was scheduled to start. It was the worst accident on the New York City subways since the Malbone Street Wreck in 1918.
Track maintenance workers had discovered the faulty switch where a storage track branched off 85 feet (26 m) south of the platform, but decided not to spike (immobilize) it. The train had been held in the station while repairs were made, and was packed with approximately 1,800 passengers; an empty train was first sent over the switch without incident.
Aftermath and investigation
Some newspapers ran a photograph taken soon after the accident looking down into the street where emergency vehicles and police were gathering; it had been transmitted over the telephone to the NEA Service in San Francisco. Approximately 50 doctors used the station platform to render first aid, and the wreckage was then cleared using acetylene torches and hand carts while three blocks of Seventh Avenue were blocked off to enable removal of the debris. Full service on the subway was restored about 12 hours after the accident, but a section of 40th Street west of Broadway remained closed since the crash had damaged its underpinnings.
The accident was blamed on human error, but the precise cause was never established. It was clear that the switch should have been spiked closed. The maintenance foreman on the scene, William Baldwin, said at the time that someone in the signaling tower located in the tunnel south of 40th Street must have pushed the button to open the switch, but the towerman, Harry King, maintained that no one had, leading to the suspicion that Baldwin had activated it from trackside with his assistant holding down the automatic brake tripper. The New York Transit Commission later took this view. Baldwin was initially charged with negligent homicide in the then 15 deaths and released on $10,000 bail. It emerged that King was actually a clerk, not a trained towerman; then in early October he admitted that he had been using a false identity and was really Harry Stockdale, from Baltimore, where he had been convicted in a stabbing. The charges against Baldwin were dismissed and King imprisoned instead.
- Robert B. Shaw, Down Brakes: A History of Railroad Accidents, Safety Precautions and Operating Practices in the United States of America, London: P. R. Macmillan, 1961, OCLC 2641112, p. 429.
- Thomas R. Brooks, "Subway Roulette: The Game is Getting Dangerous", New York Magazine, June 15, 1970, p. 41].
- Associated Press, "Hold Man in Tube Tragedy", San Jose News, August 25, 1928, p. 1.
- Alan Black, Urban Mass Transportation Planning, McGraw-Hill series in transportation, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995, ISBN 9780070055575, p. 222.
- Associated Press, "Man Failure Blamed for Subway Disaster", Reading Eagle, August 26, 1928, p. 1.
- Associated Press, "14 Persons Killed and Over Hundred Injured in Terrible Wreck on New York Subway", Ottawa Citizen, August 25, 1928, p. 1.
- "14 Persons Killed and Over Hundred Injured in Terrible Wreck on New York Subway", Ottawa Citizen, p. 18.
- Morris De Haven Tracy, United Press, "New York Has Huge Subway Smash: Rush Hour Adds to Horror", San Jose News, August 25, 1928, p. 1.
- Tina Kelley, "City's Worst Transportation Disasters", The New York Times, October 16, 2003.
- "$50-a-Week Man Gets Blame for $2,500,000 Subway Wreck", The Miami News, August 26, 1928, p. 12.
- Associated Press, "List of Dead From Subway Crash Has Now Mounted to 17", The Lewiston Daily Sun, August 27, 1928, p. 9.
- Associated Press, "Actress Dies at Sight of Subway Accident Victims", The Deseret News, August 27, 1928, p. 1.
- Associated Press, "May Arrest 2 After Subway Crash in N.Y.", Ellensburg Daily Record, August 27, 1928, p. 1.
- Shaw, p. 430.
- "New York Wreck Scene Pictured", Bend Bulletin, August 27, 1928, p. 4.
- Associated Press, "Traffic Tied Up", Schenectady Gazette, August 25, 1928, p. 17.
- United Press, "Subway Signal Man Is Charged As Wreck Cause", The Palm Beach Post, August 26, 1928, p. 3.
- Shaw, pp. 429–30.
- Railway Signaling and Communications 21.11 (1928) p. 416.
- Earl J. Johnson, United Press, "Accuse Track Inspector in Subway Crash", The Pittsburgh Press, August 26, 1928, p. 2.
- "Towerman in Tube Wreck Mere Clerk, Banton Says; Wants I.R.T. to Explain", Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 31, 1928, p. 1.
- Associated Press, "Subway Towerman Charged With Causing 18 Deaths From Wreck", The Lewiston Daily Sun, October 5, 1928, p. 1.
- George J. Lankevich, New York City: A Short History, New York: New York University, 2002, ISBN 9780814751855, p. 158.