Kew Gardens train crash
|Date||November 22, 1950|
|Location||Kew Gardens, Queens, New York City|
|Rail line||Main Line (LIRR)|
|Operator||Long Island Rail Road|
|Type of incident||Collision|
|Cause||Signal passed at danger|
The Kew Gardens train crash is the worst railway accident in Long Island Rail Road history, and one of the worst in the history of New York State. It happened during the evening rush hour of November 22, 1950, between Kew Gardens and Jamaica stations in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York City and killed 78 people. At the date of the crash, this was described as being in the Richmond Hill neighborhood, but subsequent boundary changes mean the site is now considered to be in Kew Gardens.
An eastbound, Hempstead-bound train consisting of 12 cars and carrying about 1,000 passengers left Pennsylvania Station at 6:09 p.m. Its first stop was to be Jamaica station, but as it passed the Kew Gardens station, the train's engineer applied the air brakes to reduce speed to 15 miles per hour (24 km/h) in response to a "Go slow" signal. However, once engaged, the brakes would not release, and the train halted. While the engineer investigated the problem, the brakeman, traveling in the rear car, got out and held a red lantern to warn any train following, as per the regulations. He then heard the traction motors power; believing that the brakes were now working and that the train was about to depart, he turned off the lantern and re-boarded the rear car. However, he had not received a signal by the train's whistle to return to the train. The brakes were still locked on and the Hempstead-bound train remained where it was, in the dark, without any protection from the rear.
Soon afterward, the train following, carrying 1,200 passengers bound for Babylon station, came around the bend some 4,600 feet (1,400 m) behind, having left Pennsylvania Station four minutes after the Hempstead train. It slowed to 15 mph (24 km/h) in response to a "Go Slow" signal indicating congestion ahead. The engineer then saw the next signal beyond the stopped train, which showed "All Clear"; thinking that this applied to him he accelerated to 35 mph (56 km/h).
Meanwhile, the brakeman on the Hempstead train signalled to his engineer that he was back aboard and the train could proceed, but he did not receive any response; he signalled again but the train stayed where it was. He prepared to get back onto the track when the Babylon train hit. Before he was killed the Babylon train's engineer applied the emergency brake but it was still travelling at 30 mph (48 km/h) when it collided with the stationary train.
Neither train derailed; the impact pushed the stationary train forward 75 feet (23 m) and split its last car lengthwise as the front car of the Babylon train telescoped into it, shearing off the superstructure above the floor and driving the roof 15 feet (4.6 m) into the air. In the ensuing collision, 78 people were killed and 363 were injured; one witness described the dead as "packed like sardines in their own blood". A survivor recounted: "All I could see was parts of bodies, arms and legs protruding from the windows". Many of those who survived the impact were trapped in the darknes,; unable to move in the pileup of dead bodies, amidst the screams and wails of the dying. Help soon came, but it was more than five hours before the last people still alive were removed from the wreckage.
The official cause of the crash was determined to be the disregard of the "Go Slow" signal by the Babylon train's now-dead engineer, who instead reacted to the "All Clear" signal half a mile ahead. The brakeman of the Hempstead train was also criticized for leaving his train unprotected during the critical moments. There was public criticism of the accident, which happened only nine months after another crash involving Long Island Rail Road trains at Rockville Centre killed 31 people. The LIRR had suffered from years of under-investment, as the cars involved in this crash were built during 1910 and their ages were typical of the fleet's as a whole. The company had been prevented from increasing fares between 1918-47 by the New York State Public Service Commission, despite increased operating costs. At the time of the accident, the LIRR had already filed for bankruptcy reorganization.
After the crash, Automatic Speed Control (ASC) was installed on the tracks. The Pennsylvania Railroad (the then-owner of the LIRR) terminated the bankruptcy and began a 12-year improvement program at a cost of US$58,000,000. The LIRR was exempted from much of its tax burden and gained freedom to charge realistic fares.
- http://www.richmondhillhistory.org/LIRRcrash.html About the Long Island Rail Road's Worst Train Crash
- http://www.trainsarefun.com/lirr/lirrwrecks/lirrwrecks.htm November 22, 1950 Collision at Richmond Hill west of Jamaica Station
- http://kewgardenshistory.com/ss-lirr-0650.html A Picture History of Kew Gardens, NY - The 1950 LIRR Crash at Kew Gardens/Richmond Hill
- http://kewgardenshistory.com/ss-lirr/lirr-0650-02-OL.html Dead Face Stared at Rescuers
- A Picture History of Kew Gardens, NY includes links to several other pages, including the official ICC report
- News Clip from Long Island Train Crash November 22, 1950
- November 22, 1950 Collision at Richmond Hill west of Jamaica Station