South Plainfield, NJ Train Wreck, Jan 1899

LEHIGH VALLEY WRECK

Head On Collision of Fast Trains In New Jersey.

SIXTEEN VICTIMS ALREADY.

Probability That the Death List Will Be Increased – Railway Officials Making an Inquiry Into Cause of Disaster.

Jersey City, Jan. 10. -- As far as can be ascertained, the victims of the collision Monday afternoon between a local train and an excursion train from the Pennsylvania coal regions on the Lehigh Valley railroad now number 16. Three died during the night. They were two unidentified men and a woman. One of the men is thought to be a man named JOSEPHS from Shamokin, Pa.
At the Muhlenburg hospital, Plainfield, it was said that all the 17 injured had passed a fairly good night. Engineer RICK of the local train is in a critical condition, and a baby from Shamokin may die. With the exception of these two it is scarcely likely that the death list will be increased. PRENDERGAST, engineer of the Shamokin train, is doing well. He frequently asks for some papers which he had with him and claims that these will clear him of all responsibility.
The injured are so scattered that it is hard to ascertain with certainty their condition or even location. The bodies of the dead in several cases are so disfigured that identification is a hard matter. It is possible that another of the unidentified dead is R. WEIKELL of Shamokin, Pa. H. E. WEIKELL is in the death list, and it is supposed that R. WEIKELL is his brother. Admitting that R. WEIKELL and JOSEPHS are the two additions to the list sent out, this leaves the bodies of three women to be identified.
List of the Killed.
A revised list of the killed is:
JACOB HELLER, tailor; JOHN JARVIS, boy; MARTIN KEENAN; W. C. LEADER; FRANK RYBECKI, W. H. HINKLE, contractor, all of Mount Carmel, Pa.; THEODORE KEHAN; W. H. MERKLE, R. WEIKELL; H. E. WEIKELL; GEORGE JOSEPHS, all of Shamokin, Pa.; A. S. KAISER, Pottsville, Pa.; three unknown women; one unknown man.
The number of injured is said to be 36.
The railroad officers have been active since the collision in trying to fix the responsibility for it. A story was told at the wreck that a mix up in orders, happening in this wise, caused it: The third section of regular train 20, running as an excursion from Shamokin to this city, was delayed by making a change at Mauch Chunk on account of a hot journal. The train was 35 minutes late the last time it was reported before reaching Bound Brook. An early morning freight wreck at Bound Brook had blocked the whole road for a time, but wreckers succeeded in clearing the west bound track not long afterward.
Traffic was resumed over the track, but as a precaution a general order was telegraphed to South Plainfield to hold all west bound trains at that point for special orders. Short line train 71, running from South Plainfield to Bound Brook, had been waiting at South Plainfield for 25 minutes in obedience to the general order, but since the third section of No. 20 was so late it was thought possible to send the Short line through to Bound Brook, according to the story told.
Was Running Fast.
But the third section of No. 20 was making such good time that it would have been necessary to hold it at Bound Brook for the Short line to get in, and as No. 20 was the more important train another order countermanding the first order was sent to hold the Short line, assurance having been received that the Short line had not left and that the second order would be in time.
Here, it is said, the blunder came, for the first order was delivered to the trainmen of the Short line and the countermanding order was not. The Short line started from South Plainfield on the west bound track at almost the same time that the third section of No. 20 started from Bound Brook on the same track. New Market is the only telegraph station between these two stations, and the Short line stopped there, but the fact that is was on its way could not have been known to the train dispatcher at Easton until after New Market had been passed, and after that it was too late.
This story was also contradicted at the wreck by a railroad officer, who said that the order not to allow any west bound trains to pass South Plainfield had not been countermanded, and that the Short line had no right on the track. The operator on duty at South Plainfield when the Short line train started was HARRY RUTLAND, and he said that the Short line was 36 minutes late at South Plainfield, and that he had received no orders to hold it. He went on duty at noon, and it has been suggested that the morning order to hold all trains may not have been seen by him when the Short line started.
Besides the investigation being made by the officials of the railroad, the authorities of Middlesex county, in which county the accident occurred, are making an independent attempt to fix the responsibility. Coroner MOKE of New Brunswick has impaneled a jury, and the preliminaries of the inquest are in progress. It is reported that RUTLAND, the Lehigh Valley operator at South Plainfield, who let the local proceed to Bound Brook, has been suspended.

Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat New York 1899-01-10

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