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List of the Dead

ALBINGER, Julius H. P.
149 Roxbury Rd., South Garden City, NY

ARCHAMBEAULT, Henry
714 St. Marks Ave., Bellmore, NY

BAHN, Bernard
60 Dunne St., Lynbrook, NY

BARNES, Dolores and John
105 Wantagh Ave., Levittown, NY

BENTLEY, William
27 Laurel Lane, Roslyn Heights, NY

BIEGEL, Samuel
9 Barth Drive, Baldwin, NY

BJERRE, John Anthony **
3481 Stefan Lane, Wantagh, NY

BERNSDOFF, James F.
25 Jackson Pl., Baldwin, NY

BLOOMBERG, Michael
294 Princeton Rd., Rockville Centre, NY

BORTHWICK, Alonza John
58 Park Ave., Merrick, NY

BROWN, George Lewis and Stephen P.
151 Lenox Rd., Baldwin, NY

BRUML, Florence and ?
5 Rockwell Rd., Rockville Centre, NY

BUCHONOK, Petro
14 South St., West Islip, NY

CESTA, Caneo
10 Surrey Lane, Bellmore, NY

CITRON, Henry
176 North Bayview Ave., Freeport, NY

COHEN, George R.
68 Henry St., Merrick, NY

CONBOY, James B.
99-54 211th St., Bellaire, NY

COMPTON, John N.
275 Maple Ave., Rockville Centre, NY

De COLA, Richard
83 Henry St., Roosevelt, NY

DONOLON, John J.
4378 Hewlett Ave., Merrick, NY

DUDLEY, Edward Beaumont, Jr.
49 Stone Lane, Hicksville, NY

EIDT, Harry
58 Kilburn Rd., Garden City, NY

ELLNER, Joseph
207 Linden St., Rockville Centre, NY

FISHER, Darrell, C.
La Grange, IL

FOX, David
150 North Brookside Ave., Freeport, NY

FRANKFORT, Emanuel M.
49 Argyle Rd., East Meadow, NY

FRIEDHEIM, Harry
28 Strathmore Lane, Rockville Centre, NY

GOLDSTEIN, Samuel
41 Virginia Ave., Rockville Centre, NY

GOVER, Charles Lindsay
4 Brook Pl., Bellmore, NY

GREFFLY, William Frederick **
3481 Stephen Lane, Wantagh, NY

HANSON, Alfred
112 Jefferson Ave., Bellmore, NY

HASETH, Julia
115-38 226th St., St. Albans, NY

HAZARD, Louis Albert
11 Neddle Lane, Levittown, NY

HERMELEE, Harold
52 Park Lane, Rockville Centre, NY

HOYT, Philip D.
25 Martland Ave., Hempstead, NY

HYAMS, Herbert
288 Hamilton St., Rockville Centre, NY

JAEGER, Adolph
274 Seaforth Ave., Massapequa, NY

KATZ, Irving
172 California Ave., Freeport, NY

KLEIN, Adrian Joseph
182 California Ave., Freeport, NY

KRASSE, Jeremiah
17 Jefferson Ave., Bellmore, NY

KULP, Herbert
421 Raymond St., Rockville Centre, NY

MAZZARELLA, Carl
56 South Forest Ave., Rockville Centre, NY

MECHANIC, Morris
55 Brevoort Pl., Rockville Centre, NY

MEYER, Arthur
71 Ocean Pkwy., Brooklyn, NY

MEYERS, William A.E.
119 Mitchell St., Baldwin, NY

MICHAELS, Bernard and Sheila
129 Whitehouse Ave., Roosevelt, NY

MURPHY, James
13 Lenox Pl. Freeport, NY

MYERS, Frederick George
1377 Darby Rd., Wantagh, NY

NEIDMANN, Erich
8 Parsonage St., Baldwin, NY

NEWILL, William Benson
10 Lent Ave., Hempstead, NY

OLSEN, Arthur
261 Avoca Ave., Massapequa, NY

OSHERHAUS, Eric H.
210 Oak St., Bellmore, NY

PEARSALL, Percival
11 East Chester St., Oceanside, NY

PEARSON, Frederick
206 Lincoln Blvd., Bellmore, NY

PEKAREK, James R.
309 West Martin Ave., Bellmore, NY

PLA, Miguel Angel
87 Lincoln Ave., Rockville Centre, NY

POKORNEY, Benjamin J.
45 Paumpake Ave., Babylon, NY

RUDOLPH, Leon
187-13 Linden Blvd., St. Albans, NY

RULFS, John
206 East Clarendon Ave., Bellmore, NY

SCHWEIZER, Henrietta
6 Howard Pl., Oceanside, NY

SHAEFITZ, Abe
160 Allen Rd., Rockville Centre,, NY

SIEGEL, Louis B.
16 Wellfleet Rd., East Rockaway, NY

STEINHAUSER, John E.
224 Floral Park Blvd., Floral Park, NY

STELZER, Irv
90 Strathmore Lane, Rockville Centre, NY

STOLOFF, Louis
98 Plymouth Rd., Rockville Centre, NY

THALLY, Robert
7540 Austin St. (or 10 Oak Brook Lane), Rockville Centre, NY

TRAYNOR, James
38 East Grand Ave. Bellmore, NY

TREHY, Patrick
247 East Hoffman Ave., Lindenhurst, NY

TURNER, Cyrus G., Jr.
35 Kenwood Rd., Garden City, NY

VERBEECK, Arthur
184 Marion Ave., Merrick, NY

WEINBERG, Albert B.
98 Stratford Rd., Rockville Centre, NY

WOLINER, Max
914 Jericho Turnpike, New Hyde Park, NY

ZACKMANN, Frank
112 Linden St., Bellmore, NY

ZIMMERMAN, Joan
808 Virginia Ave., Hempstead, NY


SOURCES:
New York Times, p. 26 (Nov. 24, 1950)
New York Times, p. 40 (Nov. 29, 1950)
** Thanks to Bruce Allyn Klockars for these
    name corrections
Collision

[Updated May 6, 2010.]

It was the worst train wreck in Long Island Rail Road history, and it happened on the night of November 22, 1950.

On a stretch of track east of the Kew Gardens Long Island Rail Road Station, a night-time New York to Hempstead commuter train came to a stop because its brakes would not release. As its motorman began working on the problem, a brakeman got out of the rear car and stood on the tracks holding a red lantern to warn any approaching train of its presence. Because there was no automatic stopping mechanism on these tracks, the Railroad's operating rules required the brakeman to do this whenever his train was stopped under circumstances in which it might be overtaken by another train. The brakeman was obligated under those rules to "insure full protection" of his train, and if necessary to accomplish that, he was to display a lighted "fusee" or put down "torpedos".
Note:

A "fusee" is a type of flare which burns bright red for 10 - 15 minutes. It is very similar to the flares Highway Patrolmen put around the scene of a traffic accident.

"Torpedos" are explosive caps fastened to the top of the rail and exploded by the pressure of a rolling wheel. They warn a motorman of danger ahead.

A "brakeman" (also called a trainman") is the lowest ranking member of a train crew. His duties are to assist the conductor in anyway possible. Despite what the title suggests, a 1950 Long Island Rail Road brakeman was not responsible for the good working order of the train's brakes.

The brakeman soon heard the Hempstead train power up. He thought the braking problem was solved and that the train was about to get underway. So, he extinguished the lantern and reboarded the rear car. That was a mistake. It was not for the brakeman to guess when to return to the train. Under the Railroad's rules, he was to remain on the tracks until recalled by a specific signal from the train's whistle, and no such signal was ever given. In any case, the brakeman had guessed wrong. The brakes had still not released and the Hempstead train remained rooted to the ground. Now, however, it stood unprotected in the dark of night, with no rear warning lantern, fusee or torpedo to alert an oncoming train it was there. It was almost 6:30 PM - the middle of rush hour - when commuter traffic in that direction was four times heavier than during off-peak periods.

Probably seconds after the brakeman extinguished the warning lantern, a New York to Babylon train came around the bend about 4,600 feet back. At this point, the Babylon train received a "Go Slow" signal indicating congestion up ahead, so it reduced its speed to 15mph. However, as it passed through the Kew Gardens Station area, the motorman of the Babylon train caught sight of the next signal one half mile in the distance. That signal showed "All Clear". It never dawned on him that the All Clear signal was meant for the Hempstead train stalled in darkness only a third of a mile ahead. Since the Hempstead train no longer displayed a rear warning lantern, the motorman of the Babylon train did not see it was there. (Although the rear of the Hempstead train had two red lights called "marker lights", those lights were so small that they would not have been visible to him until too late.) Thinking the "All Clear" was meant for him, he increased speed. As the Babylon train left the Kew Gardens Station area and emerged from the Lefferts Boulevard overpass, it was traveling at about 35mph.

Meanwhile, on the Hempstead train, the brakeman had signaled his motorman that he was back onboard and that the train could proceed. The train did not move, The brakeman signaled again, and still the Hempstead train did not move. The brakeman was preparing to get back out on the tracks when the oncoming Babylon train struck from the rear. In the last seconds of his life, the motorman of the Babylon train had tried to apply his emergency brakes, but he succeeded only in slowing the Babylon train to about 30mph before impact. The force of the collision pushed the Hempstead train a distance of 75 feet, lifting its last car 15 feet into the air and splitting it lengthwise. The Babylon train had the superstructure of its first car sheared off to the floor and demolished. The rear brakeman was injured but survived. The collision left 78 dead and 363 injured. One witness described the dead as "packed like sardines in their own blood".
Read a synopsis of the collision.

Read the Interstate Commerce Commission (I.C.C.) Report of the Accident.

Read another account of the collision.

Read first person accounts of the collision.

Read the recollections of a N.Y. Times reporter and a rescuer.

Read more about the collision.

Read an interview with the brakeman.


Press accounts in the aftermath of the collision had the Babylon train going 60 to 65mph at the time it hit. However, the Interstate Commerce Commission investigated the collision and found the speed at impact was about 30mph. Had the Babylon train been going 60mph or more, the resulting devastation would have been much worse and most likely other cars in the two trains would have separated or derailed. That did not happen. Only slight damage was suffered by the other cars all of which remained connected and on track.

The cause of the crash was officially determined to be disregard of the Go Slow signal by the deceased motorman of the Babylon train. He should have followed the Go Slow signal he had just passed rather than the All Clear signal a half mile ahead. However, the Interstate Commerce Commission's Report on the crash seemed to imply that the brakeman on the Hempstead train had not done all he could have to protect his train - a conclusion I find unavoidable given that the brakeman extinguished his warning lantern and returned to the train before being signaled to do so. It was a clear night, and the brakeman assumed at the time that no train would approach at more than 15mph. So he thought the risk of a casualty was remote. He miscalculated, just as the motorman of the Babylon train miscalculated.

The crash occurred only nine months after a head on collision between two Long Island Rail Road trains at Rockville Centre, NY killed 31 and injured 158. According to The Long Island Press newspaper, the two accidents caused the public to view to the Long Island Rail Road as unsafe and irresponsible. Queens District Attorney Charles P. Sullivan called it the "Death Valley Railroad." The disaster led to public demands for increased government scrutiny. Yet, blame for what happened that night extended beyond the Railroad's management to the very State Government that was called upon to take action.

Because the Long Island Rail Road was a monopoly, it was subject to regulation by the New York State Public Service Commission. The Commission had refused to allow the Railroad any rate increases for almost 30 years (1918 - 1947) despite the L.I.R.R.'s increased operating costs and resulting heavy losses. Furthermore, because people always had the option of taking their cars rather than the train, the Long Island Rail Road had to compete for the public's transportation dollars with the various New York State authorities that owned and operated the bridges, tunnels and highways. Unlike the Long Island Rail Road which was heavily taxed in all respects, those authorities paid no tax whatsoever on their real estate, assets or income. Moreover, bridges, tunnels and highways cost much less to maintain than a railroad. All of that left the Long Island Rail Road at a permanent competitive disadvantage, and every effort to level the playing field by providing badly needed subsidies for the Railroad was defeated in the State Legislature.

The result of that kind of transportation policy should not have been hard to foresee. By 1950, the Railroad was starved for cash and it's equipment was old and decrepit. The two cars involved in the crash were built in 1910, more than 40 years earlier. Such cars were the rule, not the exception. One newspaper reporter cracked that if the Long Island Rail Road were a model train set, it would make a little boy cry to find it under his Christmas Tree. On the date of the collision, the Long Island Rail Road had already filed for bankruptcy reorganization and was operating under the supervision of two bankruptcy trustees. Two days after the crash, Governor Dewey told The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper that $50,000,000 was needed just to make the Long Island Rail Road, "reasonably safe and to insure something approaching satisfactory operation." That was money the perennially cash poor Railroad just did not have, and the State Government had mostly itself to blame for the situation.

In the aftermath of the crash, Automatic Speed Control (ASC) was installed on the tracks. The Pennsylvania Railroad (which owned the Long Island Rail Road) agreed to terminate the L.I.R.R.s bankruptcy and begin a 12 year, 58 million dollar improvement program. The L.I.R.R. gained exemption from much of its tax burden and the freedom to charge realistic fares.

The point of impact for the collision was 1,960 feet east of the Kew Gardens Long Island Rail Road Station [click here to view an I.C.C. Diagram] near 125th Street - one block west of the Metropolitan Avenue overpass. Although press accounts at the time described that area as Richmond Hill, neighborhood boundaries have long since changed. Today, the site of the collision is considered to be in Kew Gardens.

Sources:
  • Interstate Commerce Commission Report (Ex Parte No. 176), Accident Near Jamaica, N.Y. (Dec. 18, 1950).
  • Patterson, Lockwood & Moses, Long Island Rail Road Commission Report to Hon. Thomas E. Dewey, pp. 3 - 5 (February 3, 1951) (Reprinted in The New York Times, p. 44 (Jan. 21, 1951).
  • Pennsylvania Railroad Book of Rules: Operating Signal and Interlocking Rules, Rules 14 - 16, 35, 99, 102, and 108 (Eff. Sept. 28, 1947) (In force on the Long Island Rail Road at the time of the crash).
  • "Complete L.I.R.R. Shakeup Looms Due to Wreck", The Brooklyn Eagle, p. 2 col. 4 (November 25, 1950).
  • Alexander Feinberg, "P.R.R. Blames State for Bad Conditions on the Long Island", The New York Times, p. 1 (January 7, 1951).
  • Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker, 934 - 35 (1975 Vantage Books).
  • Keith Eastlake, Great Train Disasters, pp. 20 - 21 (Univ. Int'l Pty Ltd., Australia 1997).
  • Train Wrecks Crashes and Disasters 1934 - 1955 (Questar Video, Inc. 1995).
  • K. C.'s Long Island Rail Road Site
  • About the Long Island Rail Road's Worst Train Crash, The Richmond Hill Historical Society Web Site.

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