Naperville train disaster

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Naperville train disaster
C.B.&Q. E5A as used on both trains
C.B.&Q. E5A as used on both trains
Date April 25, 1946
Location Naperville, Illinois
Country United States
Rail line Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad
Operator Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad
Type of incident Collision
Cause Insufficient warning of stopped train
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 85 miles per hour (137 km/h). 45 people died, and some 125 were injured.

The wreck[edit]

According to initial interviews with the train crew, engineer W. W. Blaine of the Exposition Flyer (who survived with a fractured skull) 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, and was still traveling in excess of 60 mph (97 km/h) when it struck the rear of the Advance Flyer.[1][2]

At impact the engine of the Exposition Flyer plowed through the last coach of the Advance Flyer, collapsed a dining car, and derailed several more coaches. Five cars on the Exposition Flyer also derailed.[2]

The rescue[edit]

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 away. Most of the wounded were brought to Copley Hospital in Aurora, bodies were brought to local funeral homes.

The engineer, who stayed at his station, was able to climb out of the wreckage and make his way unassisted to the aid station despite a head wound. The fireman, who jumped just prior to impact, died.

The railroad sent a special relief train and many workers, although all three mainline tracks were blocked by wreckage, by late night all injured and most bodies had been recovered, and trains started to slowly move through the crash site.[2]

The aftermath[edit]

The day of the crash the engineer said he was going too fast, the railroad only said that the signals were working correctly. Manslaughter charges were filed against the engineer, but he was not taken into custody (he was in the hospital at the time).[2]

Questions were raised about the braking. The engineer said he had put them in “emergency”, and witnesses reported the wheels were sparking, but physical evidence didn’t support that, and crew members felt that the train was only in “service” braking before the impact.[3]

In later tests by the railroad, when “emergency” was used as soon as the red signal was seen only the engine and one car passed the point of impact, and although the crash would still have happened, it would have been less severe.[4]

On May 8, 1947 a DuPage County coroner’s jury found the railroad and some employees were negligent, but that no single act caused the crash, it was a combination of many. No indictments were made, and charges against the engineer were dropped.[5]

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).[6][7] 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 faster must have "an automatic cab signal, automatic train stop or automatic train control system",[8][9] expensive technology that was implemented on some lines in the region, but has since been mostly removed.

Following this disaster, advancements in train speed in the United States essentially halted.[6][7] However, select Amtrak passenger trains run at up to 150 mph (240 km/h) as of 2013.

In 2012 Chuck Spinner wrote the definitive research work on the crash. His book is entitled The Tragedy at the Loomis Street Crossing. Because of interest in the crash that was generated from its publication, a Naperville committee selected Paul Kuhn to create a sculpture at the crash site that was dedicated in 2014 to both the victims and the rescue workers involved in the tragic wreck. Kuhn's sculpture is made of 5,000 railroad spikes and 10 miles of welding wire.


  1. ^ "Naperville, IL Disastrous Train Wreck, Apr 1946". Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d "47 DIE, 100 HURT IN WRECK ENGINEER'S STORY OF CRASH". Chicago Tribune (ProQuest Historical Newspapers). 26 Apr 1946. 
  3. ^ "TELL OF TRAIN’S ‘LAST MILE’". Chicago Tribune (ProQuest Historical Newspapers). 28 Apr 1946. 
  4. ^ "PROVES WRECK OF TWO TRAINS AVOIDABLE". Chicago Tribune (ProQuest Historical Newspapers). 3 May 1946. 
  5. ^ "RAILWAY, CREWS FREED IN WRECK TAKING 45 LIVES". Chicago Tribune (ProQuest Historical Newspapers). 5 Oct 1946. 
  6. ^ a b William Wendt (July 30, 2007). "Hiawatha dieselization". Yahoo Groups. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  7. ^ a b John Gruber and Brian Solomon (2006). The Milwaukee Road's Hiawathas. Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-0-7603-2395-3.  line feed character in |author= at position 22 (help)
  8. ^ "Ask Trains from November 2008". Trains Magazine. December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 29, 2009. 
  9. ^ "49 CFR 236.0 - Applicability, minimum requirements, and penalties". United States Code. 
  • Spinner, Chuck (2012). The Tragedy at the Loomis Steet Crossing. AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-4685-5594-3. 

External links[edit]