Downers Grove train wreck

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Downers Grove train wreck
EMD E5 at IRM.jpg
DateApril 3, 1947
Time22:41 CST
LocationDowners Grove, Illinois
Coordinates41°47′44″N 88°00′32″W / 41.79556°N 88.00889°W / 41.79556; -88.00889Coordinates: 41°47′44″N 88°00′32″W / 41.79556°N 88.00889°W / 41.79556; -88.00889
CountryUnited States
LineTwin Cities Zephyr
OperatorChicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad
Incident typeDerailment
CauseObstruction on line
60-seat coach "Neptune" (1968)
(sister "Minerva" was in wreck)

The Downers Grove train wreck happened on April 3, 1947, at the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad station in Downers Grove, Illinois. The Twin Cities Zephyr, a high-speed inter-city passenger train, struck a tractor which had fallen from a freight train only seconds before. Three died and over thirty were injured in the wreck.

The Twin Cities Zephyr[a] had left Minneapolis at 5:10 PM with an EMD E5 locomotive pulling a seven car trainset called "The Train of the Goddesses"[b]. The train carried many college students and others traveling for the coming Easter weekend and was due at Chicago's Union Station at midnight.[1][2]

At 10:41 PM, approaching the Downers Grove station at about 75 miles per hour (121 km/h), the eastbound Zephyr struck a heavy caterpillar-type tractor which had just fallen off a westbound freight train. The engineer, who would later die from his injuries, told rescuers that he saw the tractor fall and immediately applied the brakes. At impact[c] the locomotive went airborne, broke away from the trainset, landed on its side, skidded through the station[d], and caught fire. The first two cars jack-knifed into an empty office and waiting room of the brick masonry station building, which by chance had been closed early for the night. The freight train had just cleared the scene when all three tracks running through the depot were torn up.[3][4][5]

The response was fast. A signalman from the nearby tower went east and used flares to stop a westbound freight while a brakeman from the Zephyr climbed out a window after the crash and went west to flag a following local passenger train. The fire department, police, and townspeople (along with a Boy Scout troop) quickly began giving aid. Police from nearby towns also came to help, along with state police. After being given first aid at a doctor's office across from the station or in the lobby of the Tivoli Theatre, the injured were taken to the Hinsdale Hospital or Copley Memorial Hospital in Aurora. Two died and more than 30 were injured, the train's engineer died three days later.[3][5][6][7]

Unlike the Naperville train disaster less than a year earlier, there was no question of wrongdoing at the scene. On May 8, 1947 a DuPage County Coroner’s jury found that International Harvester (the shipper) and the Burlington were negligent in loading and inspecting the tractor.[8][9][10]


  1. ^ Scheduled as the southbound "Afternoon Zephyr"
  2. ^ Five cars of this set, as well as a CB&Q(C&S) E5, are preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois
  3. ^ The impact site was at Forest Ave., one block west of the station
  4. ^ A policeman parked in the cab-stand watched the locomotive skid past him, his squad car was damaged by flying debris.


  1. ^ "Twin Cities Zephyr trainsets". Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  2. ^ Zimmermann, Karl (2004). Burlington’s Zephyrs. Andover Junction. pp. 45–55, 83–86. ISBN 0-7603-1856-5.
  3. ^ a b "Speeding Train Hits Tractor and Depot; Two Die, 25 Hurt". The Milwaukee Journal. April 4, 1947. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  4. ^ "Downers Grove, Il train derails & crashes into depot". April 6, 1947. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Zephyr Wreck of 1947" (newspaper articles, mostly from the Downers Grove Reporter in April 1947, along with photos and recollections) retrieved September 16, 2010
  6. ^ Dunham, Montrew; Wandschneider, Pauline (1982). Downers Grove 1832 to 1982. Heritage Festival Task Force of Downers Grove. pp. 153–154. ISBN 0-9608670-0-7.
  7. ^ Dunham, Montrew (2003). Downers Grove Revisited. Arcadia. pp. 46, 56. ISBN 0-7385-3195-2.
  8. ^ "6 Inquiries in Zephyr Wreck;Tractor Blamed". The Milwaukee Sentinel. April 5, 1947. Retrieved March 27, 2016.
  9. ^ "Photos Bare Clew to Cause of Zephyr Wreck:". Chicago Tribune. April 5, 1947.
  10. ^ "Jurors Blame Zephyr Wreck on Negligence". Chicago Tribune. May 9, 1947.