Springer, NM Flier And Mail Trains Collide, Sep 1956
20 KILLED IN TRAIN WRECK
35 HURT AS CHIEF AND MAIL TRAIN COLLIDE IN STATE.
FIREMAN THREW SWITCH WRONG WAY, RAIL OFFICIAL SAYS.
Springer (AP) -- Twenty persons were killed and 35 were injured Wednesday when the Santa Fe Chief plunged, brakes screaming, headon into a sidelined mail train.
A Santa Fe official said a railway worker threw a switch the wrong way, directing the Chief off the main line and into the waiting mail train.
Late Wednesday, as the last of the debris was cleared from the line just before traffic resumed, the Santa Fe identified as brakeman LAWRENCE McCORMICK of Raton, the 20th victim. The body was found in wreckage of a dormitory car on the Chief where McCORMICK was riding from Raton to Albuquerque.
The wreckage was cleared from the track late Wednesday and the remainder of the Chief moved south to Albuquerque, arriving there at 10:33 p. m. Through passengers were still aboard.
Swerves Into Bypass.
The Santa Fe spokesman, J. P. REINHOLD, vice president in charge of public relations, said the Chief, which left Chicago for Los Angeles at 9 a.m. Tuesday and was traveling 40 to 45 miles an hour at the time, was supposed to go westward on the main track.
Instead it swerved into the bypass where the mail train waited for the go-ahead.
All those killed were trainmen and dining car employes. Officials said no passengers were killed.
Ten injured wrer taken to a hospital in this northern New Mexico livestock center.
Railway spokesmen said the fireman on the mail train became confused and set the switch wrong. They added it is not unusual for the fireman, instead of the brakeman, to handle some switching duties on such trains.
Most of those killed lost their lives as they slept in a dormitory car next in line behind the Chief's diesel engines. Carrying a reported 16 waiters and lounge employes, the car was smashed to rubble. It came to rest partly on top and partly underneath a diesel unit and another car.
Santa Fe officials said the mail train -- the eastbound No. 8 -- entered the siding head-first, as was customary, and was scheduled to pass on out onto the main line after the streamliner had cleared.
Error In Judgement.
REINOLD, who was aboard the mail train with his family, said the fireman committed an "error in judgement."
More than 300 passengers aboard the Chief escaped with their lives and without serious injury as the silvery cars were scrambled into what a newsman described as a "fantastic accordian."
The point at which the streamliner left the safety of the main line and crashed into the second train was five miles south of this town. The wreck took place at 3 a. m.
REINHOLD identified the fireman who threw the switch the wrong way as P. C. CALDARELLI, of Raton. The railway offical said the mistake was "just one of those things that is hard to firgure out. He just does not know why he did it."
All 312 passengers aboard the Chief were accounted for, REINHOLD said. He listed them as 45 pullman passengers, 227 adult coach passengers and 40 children.
Standing on End.
JOHN B. CURTIS, Associated Press writer at the scene, said the cars were "mangled, twisted and standing on end. Women's shoes, bedclothing and suitcases are strewn every place."
Only seven of the 13 cars on the Chief remained on the track.
W. J. COX, Pasadena, Calif., a passenger on the Chief and a railroad fan and member of the Pacific Railroad Society of Los Angeles, said he went through five cars and found no signs of panic. He said the collision was "not rough but almost as though we had run over something; the impact seemed to come from underneath."
Doctors, officers and ambulances from most of northern New Mexico were called to the scene. National Guardsmen were stationed about the wreck to buard the mail train and keep hordes of spectators away.
S. A. RUTZ, Albuquerque, mail train conductor, said, "We were stacked up on the siding at 3 a. m. just waiting. It was dark as pitch when the crash came. It knocked my train back about a car length. As far as I could tell it (the Chief) wasn't coming very fast."
JACK LONDON, Beverly Hills, Calif., was awake in a car on the Chief at the time. He said, "The first I knew, there seemed to be a sharp braking and then a rending crash. Screaming broke out in my car, so I started yelling at people to take it easy."
LONDON said the Chief was not moving "terribly fast."
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