Gilchrest Road, New York crossing accident
|Gilchrest Road crossing accident|
|Date||March 24, 1972|
|Location||Clarkstown, New York|
|Bus route or line||School bus|
|Type of incident||Grade crossing|
|Cause||Bus driver's failure to yield at a grade crossing|
|Vehicles||Freight train and school bus|
The Gilchrest Road crossing accident was a level crossing accident that occurred on March 24, 1972 in the town of Clarkstown, New York, between Valley Cottage and Congers, roughly 25 miles north of New York City. Five students from Valley Cottage were killed, and 44 other students were injured.
The Penn Central (formerly New York Central) railway crossing at Gilchrest Road West, just outside Valley Cottage, contained only crossbucks and lacked additional warning hardware, such as flashing lights or a warning bell. The railway line was also difficult for road vehicles to see due to the curvature of the road and lineside trees.
On the morning of March 24, 1972, 35-year-old Joseph Larkin was driving a Nyack High School school bus, loaded past capacity, downhill on Gilchrest Road. Penn Central freight train number 2653 (for its lead locomotive, a GE U25B), travelling at 25 miles per hour with 83 loaded freight cars (73 from origin at Weehawken, New Jersey, plus ten more picked up en route at North Bergen), destined for Penn Central's Selkirk, New York yard, was heading towards the Gilchrest Road crossing, and began blowing its horn. Larkin did not decrease the speed of the bus as he approached the grade crossing. The train engineer saw the bus cross the tracks and immediately applied the brakes. However, the train's momentum carried it through the crossing, where it collided with the bus. The freight train ripped through the school bus, severing it into two sections, with the front half coming to rest 1,000 feet (300 m) down the tracks.
Three students were killed instantly. 45 more students and Larkin were rushed to a nearby hospital, where two more students died from injuries they had sustained. Some of the children that survived required artificial limbs.
Larkin was brought to trial and charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of the five students. Larkin claimed he had come to a complete stop and looked both ways before the collision; sixteen witnesses claimed he did not. Larkin was given probation; the judge told him "You will be punished for the rest of your life and you deserve to be".
At the time of the accident, Larkin was a fireman and a part-time bus driver who had been driving the route less than a week. The surviving children admitted to the fact they did not like Larkin, claiming he frequently drove aggressively and tried to beat other cars to an intersection. Larkin died in October 2000.
The current railway crossing at Gilchrest Road West is now protected with crossbucks, flashing lights, a warning bell and safety gates. Frequent freight trains are operated there by CSX Transportation. This accident helped change the law requiring school buses to stop, open their bus door and listen for a specific amount of time before crossing any railroad track.
- Wallechinsky, David and Irving Wallace (eds.) (1975). The People's Almanac. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. pp. 566–567. ISBN 0-385-04186-1.