Atlantic City, NJ Electric Train Wreck, Oct 1906 - Cars Leap Bridge

wreckage The 'death car' being raised debris in the waters Searching for bodies Atlantic City NJ drawbridge wreck Oct 1906.jpg

CARS LEAP BRIDGE - MANY DEAD

Twenty Injured in Wreck Near Atlantic City on New Electric Pennsylvania Railroad Line.

PASSENGERS HELD IN TRAP DROWN

Train Runs Along Trestle, Then Plunges Into Twenty Feet of Water - Rescue Almost Impossible.

Atlantic City, N. J. -- Fifty lives were blotted out in an instant here when two coaches from Camden on the new electric line jumped from the trestle bridge over the Thoroughfare and sank in mud in twenty feet of water. The passengers were caught like rats in a trap, and only four men in the two cars succeeded in saving their lives. They burst windows with their hands, and forcing their bodies through the openings came to the surface after the cars had been immersed almost a minute.

The line is known as the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad, but it is the property of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Electricity was substituted for steam only a month ago, and the third rail is used. The run from Camden to this city is made in an hour and a half, and the train was on time.

The most horrible sight of the appalling disaster was that of the third coach which completed the train and which was held suspended for thirty seconds by a projecting beam in the bridge. The coach was tipped on end, and after thirty passengers had escaped the car dropped, and falling in a mud bank was not covered by the water. Several persons were caught in the coach and were drowned. Their cries were heart-breaking. A rescuer, jumping on the roof, caught a woman's wrist through a ventilator and held it until the rising tide claimed her life. When the coach went into the water a fat man was stuck in one of the windows. He was filled with hope when he found that his head was above water. Presently, however, he discovered that the tide was rising, and he made desperate struggles to gain liberty and life. Two men on the roof pulled his arms in vain, and all his striving was useless. He grew crazed with despair, and threshing the water with his arms prayed and cursed alternately until the tide swept over him. His body was cut out an hour later. His struggles were so terrible that the flesh on his sides was torn away by contact with the window frame.
Coroner GASKILL, after inspecting the bridge, said that what he found indicates, he thinks, criminal negligence on the part of the corporation or its employees. The tracks on the drawbridge are higher than those on the trestle, and the condition of the ends of the rails on the draw show that this condition has existed right along, and that the ends of the rails have been battered by the wheels striking them. Another thing, there were no guard rails along the tracks on the bridge. The Coroner is convinced that had there been such guards or even an iron railing along the side of the bridge all the cars would not have gone into the water. One car hitting the guard railing might have gone through, but the resistence[sic] would have been enough, he thinks, to have stopped the second car and, as a result, the third.
The train went over as a result of the spreading of the rails. But after leaving the tracks it traveled for 100 yards along the trestle work, and it is believed that WALTER SCOTT, the motorman, must have become unnerved, as he had sufficient time to set the brakes and bring the train to a stop. He went down with his train, however, and the truth never will be known. The tracks were examined only a few days ago, and it was thought they were safe.

The Thoroughfare trestle is one mile long, with a drawbridge in the middle. The drawbridge had been open just before the train ran out on the bridge. A yacht passed through the draw. SCOTT slowed down as he approached the structure. A signal was set against him, and he had almost brought the train to a stop, when the draw was dropped back into position, and he got the signal of a clear track. He turned on the power, and the train gathered momentum. The speed at the time the cars went from the rails was about ten miles an hour.

The first car was the first to leave the track. Engineers report that the rails appear to have spread under it. The other two coaches were dragged from the rails and the train went running along the wooden floor of the structure. Several times the cars were kept from going over the side by a heavy iron guard rail. There were a dozen men crossing the bridge on foot, and they said that at the moment the coaches left the tracks that the passengers began to shout in terror. The passengers were seen leaving their seats and crowding toward the doors. Before any of them could get out, however, the two coaches went into the water and instantly sank from sight.

The coaches went over at one end of the drawbridge. There was no protecting guard rail here, and the first coach shot clean out from the bridge and struck the water with its wheels spinning. The second coach was almost perpendicular for a few seconds, when the rear end slipped from the bridge, the car sinking flat in the mud like the first. The coupling of the third car was broken, and it turned almost at right angles to the bridge before it fell. It was the decreasing weight, as the passengers fought their way through the rear door, that finally sent the coach into the water.

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