Woodbridge, NJ Commuter Train Plunges Off Trestle, Feb 1951
SCENES OF WRECK IN WHICH 82 WERE KILLED.
CRACKUP INJURES 500 PASSENGERS.
Woodbridge, N. J. (AP) -- A crowded commuter train plunged off a newly erected trestle last night, killing 82 persons and injuring about 500. It was the nation's worst train wreck in 32 years.
Throughout the night and far into today, rescue workers hacked through the twisted mass of wreckage. They said other bodies still may be found in the crumpled coaches and debris.
The 11-car Pennsylvania Railroad train, "The Broker," swerved wildly and jumped the tracks as it sped onto the midtown overpass. The cars, jack-knifing crazily, hurtled down a 20-foot embankment.
The new, temporary overpass had been put into service only a few hours before the crash.
In Newark, the FBI said it was investigating to determine whether sabotage was involved.
The railroad, conducting its own probe, said it could offer no immediate explanation for the cause of the wreck.
The dead included bankers, lawyers and business men, prominent in their localities and civic life, most of them homebound from New York City offices.
In mid-morning, the list of known dead stood at 79, with three bodies still unidentified.
The rush-hour crackup was the worst in the nation since 1918 when 115 were killed in a Nashville, Tenn., wreck, and more disastrous than a 1943 accident outside Philadelphia that took 80 lives.
It was the third major train wreck in the metropolitan area in less than a year. A total of nearly 200 died in the three crackups.
In Washington, the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered an inquiry into the new disaster, with a public hearing to pen tomorrow.
On orders of New Jersey Gov. ALFRED E. DRISCOLL, the state's attorney general, THRODORE PARSONS, also began an investigation. He reached the scene early today, and sent an assistant to a hospital to question the critically injured engineer of the wrecked train.
It was loaded to the aisles with homebound commuters -- mostly from New York -- on their way to Red Bank, Long Branch, Asbury Park and other communities on New Jersey's wealthy north shore.
Engineer JOSEPH H. FITZSIMMONS, a veteran of 33 accident-free years on the road, blamed the over-crowded coaches and the new trestle for the tragedy.
The 52-year-old FITZSIMMONS said from a hospital cot:
"The moment my engine passed over the trestle and lurched sharply, I felt the rest of the cars would never make it."
"I hit the trestle at about 25 miles an hour and the speed of the train certainly couldn't be blamed for the crash. When I started to sway, I applied the brakes, but it apparently was too late."
Passengers and at least one railroad detective -- who did not give his name -- disagreed with the engineer on the speed of the train. The detective said it was going at top speed when it hit the trestle.
The Pennsylvania, in a statement, said a 25-mile-an-hour speed limit was in effect on the new track, opened to traffic less than five hours before "The Broker" cracked up at 5:43 P. M.
The new track was swung about 50 feet from the old one to clear the way for the Jersey turnpike, big cross-state highway under construction.
The Pennsylvania said six trains passed over the new trestle safely before "The Broker."
The railroad said the trestle itself was not a factor in the accident -- despite the engineer's statement.
Mayor AUGUST GREINER of Woodbridge said he thought the trestle buckled beneath the train's weight. But the trestle did not collapse.