September 15

This Day in History

Disaster

Sep 15, 1958:

Train plunges off bridge

A commuter train plunges off a bridge into Newark Bay in New Jersey killing 47 passengers on this day in 1958. The accident was the result of mistakes made by the train's crew.

The first bridge across Newark Bay was built in 1864. In 1926, this bridge was updated. Now made of steel, it could be raised to allow large ships to pass underneath it. In order to avoid problems with the rail lines that used the bridge, there was an automatic warning system installed. If the bridge was raised, warning lights alerted oncoming trains 1,500 yards from the bridge. A second warning was put in place 200 yards before the bridge. Finally, a derailer was installed just before the bridge to force a train from the tracks if the bridge was raised.

As commuter train 3314 from Bay Head Junction was leaving the Elizabethport station, a large freighter was radioing ahead to have the bridge raised. As the train approached Newark Bay, its crew either did not see or ignored both warning-light systems. The train was traveling about 40 miles per hour when it hit the derailer.

The locomotive and one other car jumped the tracks and plunged into the bay below. A third car was left hanging over the side of the bridge. There were no people in the first car, but the 47 people in the second car all drowned. The people in the third car were able to escape just before it also fell into the bay. Forty-eight people were injured.

Some blamed the severity of the accident on the fact that the bridge was not fully raised for the freighter. When the bridge was fully raised, concrete counterweights came down and blocked the open gap in the bridge. The train would have hit this concrete if the bridge had been fully raised. However, the common practice was to only partially raise the bridge to save time.

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