In 1905, The Worst Elevated Train Accident In New York’s History Occurred
For as long as you live September 11 will be remembered as the date of the terrorist attacks on America that brought down the World Trade Center towers. But before 2001, 9/11 marked the anniversary of the worst elevated train disaster in New York’s history. It is a disaster no one wanted to remember and was quickly forgotten except by train and New York history buffs.
The four elevated lines in Manhattan which had a glorious history are long gone, demolished between 1938 and 1955. The elevated lines began service in 1878 and until the subway was built, they provided the quickest and safest routes around New York.
But there were always fears among riders that one day an elevated train would jump the tracks.
Those fears came true on September 11, 1905.
Not surprisingly it happened at one of the more dangerous stretches of track along the elevated system.
The Sixth and Ninth Avenue Elevated lines shared their tracks above 53rd Street along Ninth Avenue. At 53rd Street the lines diverged, with the Sixth Avenue el traveling three avenues east along 53rd Street to continue its journey along Sixth Avenue.
At that Ninth Avenue junction, the towerman (also called switchman) was responsible for controlling whether trains traveling downtown would continue straight on the Ninth Avenue line or go along 53rd Street to the Sixth Avenue line.
The passengers aboard a five car “el” train that September 11 morning believed their train was going to continue straight down Ninth Avenue, as that was what the station guards at the previous station at 59th Street had told them.
If the train was proceeding down Sixth Avenue it was supposed to come to a full stop at 54th street and await a signal. The recommended maximum speed if a train was to continue down Ninth Avenue was nine miles per hour.
It was 7:05 in the morning as Paul Kelly, the motorman of the el train approached the intersection at 53rd street without stopping.
Witnesses said Kelly slowed down a bit but the train’s estimated speed was 25 miles per hour. Continue reading