Naperville train disaster

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Naperville train disaster
C.B.&Q. EMD E5 as used on the Exposition Flyer
C.B.&Q. EMD E5 as used on the Exposition Flyer
Date April 25, 1946
Location Naperville, Illinois
Coordinates 41°46′47″N 88°8′31″W / 41.77972°N 88.14194°W / 41.77972; -88.14194Coordinates: 41°46′47″N 88°8′31″W / 41.77972°N 88.14194°W / 41.77972; -88.14194
Country United States
Rail line Chicago IL-Aurora IL
Operator Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad
Type of incident Rear-end collision
Cause Failure of second train to follow signals
Trains Advance Flyer and Exposition Flyer
Deaths 45
Injuries Approx. 125

The Naperville train disaster occurred April 25, 1946, on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad at Loomis Street in Naperville, Illinois, when the railroad's Exposition Flyer rammed into the Advance Flyer, which had made an unscheduled stop to check its running gear. The Exposition Flyer had been coming through on the same track at 80 miles per hour (130 km/h). 45 people died, and some 125 were injured.


The Advance Flyer and Exposition Flyer were diesel powered high-speed inter-city passenger trains, the Exposition Flyer would soon become the California Zephyr. Both were scheduled to leave Chicago's Union Station at 12:35 PM, the Advance Flyer would take a two-minute lead as they both sped west in two sections. The day of the wreck the Advance Flyer had 2 EMD E7 locomotives with 8 head end and 5 passenger cars. The Exposition Flyer had EMD E5A&B locomotives with 9 passenger cars, four of which were sleepers. This was a short train for the run, normally 12-16 cars were needed.[1][2][3]


Naperville is a suburb in Illinois’ DuPage County 28 miles west of Union Station along the C.B.&Q.’s main line from Chicago to Aurora. This well-maintained three-track line, nicknamed “the Racetrack” by locals, had heavy traffic. The outside tracks typically had freight and local commuter trains running in one direction only, the center track, signaled in both directions, was used by intercity and express commuter passenger trains. The Flyers normally ran through Naperville on the center track at 80 miles per hour (130 km/h).[4][5]


Just after 1:00 PM on April 25, 1946, a mechanical problem caused the Advance Flyer to stop at Loomis St. in Naperville, just beyond a gradual curve that trains came through at speed. A flagman had just started back up the tracks when the Exposition Flyer, led by a locomotive appropriately named "Silver Speed", came into view.[6][7]

According to engineer W. W. Blaine of the Exposition Flyer, he immediately applied brakes upon seeing the first of two warning signals, but it was still too close to the first train to stop in time. The Exposition Flyer, slowing from 80 mph (130 km/h), was still traveling over 45 mph (72 km/h) when it struck the rear of the Advance Flyer.[7]

When the locomotive hit the last car (#13) of the Advance Flyer, a 68-seat heavyweight coach, the loco’s front truck detached and the body plowed through 3/4ths of the length of the car, killing most of its passengers. The locomotive would continue for a total of 205 feet (62 m) beyond the point of impact. Car #12, a heavyweight observation car, remained intact and pushed forward into car #11, a lightweight diner. The only car on either train not built to the then current strength standards, it collapsed into a U-shape, with more deaths. Lightweight 52 seat chair car #10 tipped on its side, #9 derailed and was leaning. None of the head-end cars derailed or were damaged. [8]

The Exposition Flyer’s locomotives were badly damaged, the all heavyweight train less so. Cars #1 to #5 all derailed, but the only damage was between cars #2 and #3, the front vestibule of #3 was collapsed about 6 feet (1.8 m).[8]


The Kroehler Furniture company was next to the crash scene; hundreds of employees rushed to help, and an aid station was set up in their warehouse. Fifty North Central College students and countless local residents also helped. Emergency workers came from as far as Hinsdale, more than 10 miles (16 km) away. Most of the wounded were brought to Hospitals in Aurora, bodies were taken to local funeral homes.[9][citation needed] Engineer Blaine of the Exposition Flyer, who stayed at his station, was able to climb out of the wreckage and make his way unassisted to an aid station despite a head wound and fractured skull. The fireman, who jumped before the impact, was the only person on the Exposition Flyer who died.[1][7]

The railroad sent a special relief train with doctors and nurses, by late night all injured and most bodies had been recovered. All three mainline tracks were blocked by wreckage, it was 27 hours before trains started to slowly move through the crash site and three days before all wreckage was cleared.[5]


There were four investigations of the wreck. In the first a DuPage County Coroner's inquest recommended that manslaughter charges be filed against the engineer of the Exposition Flyer. He was charged, but not taken into custody, as he was in the hospital at the time. He would not recover enough to be directly questioned in any of the investigations.[10]

The Burlington’s investigation started on April 28, three days after the wreck. Brake tests showed the wreck could have been avoided, or less serious, if the engineer had followed the rules, but the overall objectivity of the investigation was questioned. DuPage County District Attorney Lee Daniels said the railroad was “rehearsing the evidence”. It was suspended for the grand jury’s investigation.[5][11]

An Interstate Commerce Commission report, dated July 30, 1946, would have evidence and recommendations that would affect railroads across the country. It would also compare older heavyweight cars to newer lightweight ones (the Advance Flyer had a mixed consist).[12]

In October a DuPage County grand jury found the railroad and some employees were negligent, but that no single act caused the wreck, it was a combination of many. No indictments were made, and charges against the Exposition Flyer's engineer were dropped.[13]

The engineer of the Exposition Flyer was the center of all the investigations. He said he was going too fast, the railroad said the signals were functioning correctly. Questions were raised about braking. The engineer said he had put them in “emergency”, and witnesses reported the wheels were sparking, but physical evidence did not support that and crewmembers felt that the train was only in “service” braking before the impact. [14]

There were questions about the conductor of the Advance Flyer stopping the train just beyond the curve, and if the flagman did his job effectively.[5][15][16]

The railroad scheduling fast trains so close together was a problem, as was the mixing of lightweight and heavyweight cars, and the order the cars were in. [15]

Long-term results[edit]

This crash is a major reason why most passenger trains in the United States have a speed limit of 79 mph (127 km/h).[17][18][19] The CB&Q, Milwaukee Road, and Illinois Central were among railroads in the region running passenger trains at up to and above 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) in the 1930s and 1940s. The Interstate Commerce Commission ruled in 1951 that trains traveling 80 mph or more must have "an automatic cab signal, automatic train stop or automatic train control system", expensive technology that was implemented on some lines in the region, but has since been mostly removed.[5][13][20][21][citation needed]

The Burlington increased headway on the two trains from 2 minutes to 15 minutes in May, and added a signal position, flashing yellow, for a total of 4 positions. They continued to haul mixed heavyweight/lightweight trains, but at the time they were already rapidly replacing heavyweight cars with stainless steel lightweight “Zephyr” type cars. All units in both trains would return to service except the Advance Flyer's last coach and the dining car, both were total losses.[22][23]

Following this disaster, advancements in train speed in the United States essentially halted.[18][19] However, select Amtrak passenger trains run at up to 150 mph (240 km/h) as of 2013.[citation needed]

In 2012 Chuck Spinner published The Tragedy at the Loomis Street Crossing. Because of the interest generated by the book, a Naperville committee selected Paul Kuhn to create a sculpture at the crash site. The sculpture, commemorating both the victims and the rescue workers involved in the tragic wreck, was dedicated in 2014. Kuhn's sculpture is made of 5,000 railroad spikes.[24]


  1. ^ a b "Naperville, IL Disastrous Train Wreck, Apr 1946". Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  2. ^ Spinner, Chuck (2012). The Tragedy at the Loomis Street Crossing. AuthorHouse. pp. 18, 33, 118–119, 122. ISBN 978-1-4685-5594-3. 
  3. ^ Zimmermann, Karl (2004). Burlington’s Zephyrs. Andover Junction. pp. 93, 116–117. ISBN 0-7603-1856-5. 
  4. ^ Spinner (2012), p. 35.
  5. ^ a b c d e "This Is the 67th Anniversary of the Horrible Naperville Train Crash You've Never Heard Of". Chicago Magazine. April 26, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2016. 
  6. ^ Spinner (2012), pp. 36-38.
  7. ^ a b c "47 Die, 100 Hurt in Wreck Engineer's Story of Crash". Chicago Tribune. Apr 26, 1946. Retrieved May 2, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b Spinner (2012), pp. 18, 40-41, 118-119, 122.
  9. ^ Spinner (2012), p. 71.
  10. ^ Spinner (2012), pp. 40-41, 46.
  11. ^ "Proves Wreck of Two Trains Avoidable". Chicago Tribune. May 3, 1946. 
  12. ^ Spinner (2012), pp. 114-123.
  13. ^ a b "Railway, Crews Freed in Wreck Taking 45 Lives". Chicago Tribune. Oct 5, 1946. Retrieved May 2, 2016. 
  14. ^ Spinner (2012), p. 82.
  15. ^ a b Spinner (2012), pp. 86-87.
  16. ^ "Tell of Train's Last Mile". Chicago Tribune. Apr 28, 1946. 
  17. ^ Spinner (2012), p. 85.
  18. ^ a b William Wendt (July 30, 2007). "Hiawatha dieselization". Yahoo Groups. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  19. ^ a b Gruber, John; Solomon, Brian (2006). The Milwaukee Road's Hiawathas. Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-0-7603-2395-3. 
  20. ^ "Ask Trains from November 2008". Trains Magazine. December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 29, 2009. 
  21. ^ "49 CFR 236.0 - Applicability, minimum requirements, and penalties". United States Code. 
  22. ^ Zimmermann (2004), pp. 116-118.
  23. ^ Spinner (2012), pp. 84-85, 121.
  24. ^ White, Daniel (1 December 2015). "Naperville sculptor makes a giant out of railroad recyclables". Daily Herald. Paddock Publications, Inc. Retrieved 26 April 2016. 

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