On This Day

long island rail road, long island railroad, lirr penn station, penn station ticket windows
Associated Press
The Long Island Rail Road ticket windows in Penn station, 1957.

On This Day: Long Island Rail Road Trains Collide, Killing 79

November 22, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Nov. 22, 1950, a two-train pileup on the Long Island Rail Road killed 79 and injured hundreds more.

Deadly Train Collision Casts a Shadow Over Thanksgiving

On the evening of Nov. 22, the day before Thanksgiving, commuters at New York’s Penn Station streamed onto the 6:09 Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train bound for Hempstead. Four minutes behind, a 6:13 to Babylon also left Penn Station.

As the Hempstead train passed through the Richmond Hills section of Queens, its engineer began to reduce speed down to 15 mph in anticipation of a stop at Jamaica station. Suddenly, the air brakes locked and the train stopped dead on the tracks.

The brakeman went to the rear of the train and held a red lantern to signal that it was stopped. The train soon began to power up and the brakeman returned inside the rain. However, the brakes had not been fixed and the train remained still.

The Babylon train, traveling between 35 and 40 mph, barreled down the same track behind the Hempstead train. At 6:32, as the motorman desperately tried to brake, it smashed into the back of the Hempstead train, slicing the back car nearly in half and sending it 15 feet into the air.

It threw me up against the roof. The lights went out. Women started screaming. The chap behind me was either unconscious or dead,” said Arthur Kearney, a tax analyst who was riding on the Hempstead train. “I managed to crawl to a broken window on the left side of the train. I looked out and found myself about 15 feet above the ground. In the train under us, all I could see was parts of bodies, arms and legs protruding from the windows.”
The motorman of the Babylon train was killed, as were 78 travelers in the Hempstead train’s back car. Hundreds of others lay injured in the cars or on the side of the track.

The public was outraged by the accident, which occurred just nine months after an LIRR crash in Rockville Centre killed 31. New York City Mayor Vincent Impellitari declared the LIRR to be a “disgraceful common carrier.”

Government investigations found that LIRR officials allowed trains to run without a safety device that would have prevented a serious accident, and the LIRR was forced to pay millions of dollars to the victims and their families.

History of the Long Island Rail Road

The LIRR is the busiest commuter railroad in the United States and the oldest running under its original name. It is now operated by the New York area’s Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The first tracks for the railway were laid in 1832, with the railroad itself established in 1834. In the early years of the railway, the city of Brooklyn banned the use of steam engines in populated areas. Cars between Jamaica Station (near today’s John F. Kennedy International Airport) and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn were pulled by horse-drawn buggy during this era.

In 1901, the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired the LIRR and embarked on a series of improvements, such as the construction of Penn Station. After World War II, the LIRR was straining the finances of the Pennsylvania Railroad and was eventually purchased by the State of New York.

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