Train plunges off bridge - HISTORY
Year
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.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Lehman Brothers bankruptcy

On this day in 2008, the venerable Wall Street brokerage firm Lehman Brothers seeks Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, becoming the largest victim of the subprime mortgage crisis that would devastate financial markets and contribute to the biggest economic downturn since the Great ...read more

Tide turns in the Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain reaches its climax when the Royal Air Force (RAF) downs 56 invading German aircraft in two dogfights lasting less than an hour. The costly raid convinced the German high command that the Luftwaffe could not achieve air supremacy over Britain, and the next ...read more

U.S. forces land at Inchon

During the Korean War, U.S. Marines land at Inchon on the west coast of Korea, 100 miles south of the 38th parallel and just 25 miles from Seoul. The location had been criticized as too risky, but U.N. Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur insisted on carrying out the landing. By ...read more

First trenches are dug on the Western Front

In the wake of the Battle of the Marne—during which Allied troops halted the steady German push through Belgium and France that had proceeded over the first month of World War I—a conflict both sides had expected to be short and decisive turns longer and bloodier, as Allied and ...read more

NLF calls for general military offensive

The National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, or as it was more popularly known, the National Liberation Front (NLF), calls for a general military offensive to take advantage of the ‘disarray’ among the South Vietnamese, particularly after the abortive coup attempt ...read more

Athletics clinch pennant

On September 15, 1931, the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Cleveland Indians to clinch their third consecutive American League pennant. The win was the ninth and final American League championship of legendary manager Connie Mack’s storied career.Connie Mack was born Cornelius ...read more

James Madison marries Dolley Payne Todd

On this day in 1794, future President James Madison marries Dolley Payne Todd, a vivacious widow who went on to embrace the role of first lady and White House hostess.While Madison was serving as secretary of state from 1801 to 1809, Dolley assumed the role of White House hostess ...read more

Future President William Taft born

On this day in 1857, William Howard Taft is born in Cincinnati, OhioTaft was born into a politically active family; his father had served as President Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary of war. He attended college at Yale University, graduating second in his class. He then attended ...read more

Agatha Christie is born

Mary Clarissa Agatha Miller, later known as Agatha Christie, is born on this day in Torquay, Devon, England.Raised and educated at Ashfield, her parents’ comfortable home, Christie began making up stories as a child. Her mother and her older sister Madge also made up stories: ...read more

A Bible school instructor abducts a teenage girl

Thirteen-year-old Melissa Benoit disappears in her hometown of Kingston, Massachusetts, on her way home from a friend’s house. Although the town detective talked to everyone who lived on the path between the two houses, no one admitted to having seen Benoit. Soon afterward, the ...read more

Khrushchev arrives in Washington

Nikita Khrushchev becomes the first Soviet head of state to visit the United States. During the next two weeks, Khrushchev’s visit dominated the news and provided some dramatic and humorous moments in the history of the Cold War. Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union ...read more