Two Long Island Railroad (LIRR) commuter trains collide on this day in 1950, killing 79 people. Defective equipment caused this horrific rear-end collision, the worst in the history of the LIRR.
The accident occurred in the Richmond Hills section of Queens. A 12-car train carrying commuters from Manhattan to Hempstead on Long Island was ordered to slow down as it entered the station in Queens. Engineer William Murphy cut the speed to 15 miles per hour and then to a complete stop. As the train stood still on the tracks, rear flagman Bertram Biggin got off the train with a red lamp in order to warn any approaching trains of its presence.
Soon, the train got a green light to move on and the Hempstead train attempted to restart its journey. Biggin got back on the train, but the stop had caused the train’s brakes to lock. The express train to Babylon was on the same tracks just minutes behind and had green lights to proceed. It hit the rear of the Hempstead train going 40 miles per hour, smashing into and under the rear car, throwing it high into the air. Benjamin Pokorney, the motorman of the Babylon train, was killed, along with everyone traveling in the rear car. Another 363 people suffered significant injuries.
New York City Mayor Vincent Impellitari called the LIRR a “disgraceful common carrier” following the discovery that defective equipment that was not maintained properly was responsible for the accident. Millions of dollars in damages were eventually paid to the victims and their families.