Greens Farms, CT Train Wreck, Nov 1912


Inspection of New Haven Roadbed Shows That Rails Spread Under Merchants Express.


Charges That Roadbed Has Not Been Kept Up--Something Dropped, Is the Railroad's Explanation.

Although responsibility for the wreck of the Merchants Limited Express on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad on Saturday night at Greens Farms, near Bridgeport, Conn., had not been officially determined last night, the condition of the roadbed, as seen yesterday, pointed to a crossover switch as the primary cause of the derailment, which followed within a few hours the derailment of another New York, New Haven & Hartford train at Milford--the fourth wreck in the vicinity of Bridgeport in the last fifteen months.

An investigation by a reporter for THE NEW YORK TIMES yesterday morning of the crossover switch and the third of a mile of roadbed over which the derailed cars cut their way on the ties and embankment, showed very plainly that the cars left the tracks at a point four feet from the end of a switch connecting the two westbound tracks. There were indications that the crossover figured in this wreck in a manner similar to that shown in the fatal Boston Express disaster at Westport, Oct. 3, and the one near Bridgeport July 11, 1911, both attributed to high speed in passing from one track to another.

The inner rail of the track at the point where the switch carried the train to the outside track had spread at the point of connection about two inches from its proper position. The outside rail opposite the "spread" had been torn loose from the ties and rolled over, the weight of the train causing the weakened line of rail to be dragged from the roadbed for 500 feet. Three of the cars went over the embankment and plunged to the tops of the wheels in the earth.

The speed of the train has been estimated at from fifty-five to sixty miles and hour. It was probably not less than fifty miles at the time and within three minutes of the schedule. Either the switch was too short or was badly constructed, or the stability of the roadbed was not equal to the sudden an terrific change of direction of a heavy steel train. Apparently the pressure of the train as it struck the straight lines of rails coming from the switch caused a loosening of spikes on the outer rail, and the recoil from this pressure caused the spreading of the inner rail, causing the four steel cars to leave the tracks after the engine and baggage car had passed the danger point safely.

On this section of the road, about 2,000 feet from the Greens farm railway Station, the road is a straight line. The crossover switch was a temporary one, it was said, and was recently completed in connection with the work of electrification of the line to Stamford, the eastern terminal of the electric zone at present. It would have been impossible for the train to leave the tracks on this straight run except in going from the main track to the outside. That the switch was properly set is indicated by the fact that the engine, tender, and baggage car took the rails safely.

Hundreds of the ties were cut to pieces, and this gave rise to the suspicion by some of those who viewed the wreckage that the wooden supports of the rails were defective. This was denied by the Superintendent of the wrecking crew and by the engineer of the Public Utilities Commission, C. C. Elwell, who was one of the first officials to go from his home in New Haven to investigate the accident.

"The ties and rails both appear to be in good condition," he said. "I cannot fix the cause of the accident at this time, but it appears to me that the trouble rests with the switch or crossover."

Mr. Elwell was told by some of the railway men that a broken brake beam probably caused the wreck. This is the iron bar connecting the automatic brakes beneath and on each side of the cars. A broken rod, it was said, would cause derailment. But a careful inspection of the tracks failed to show any indication that an accident of that kind had happened.

The several wrecks in the same immediate vicinity within so brief a period have caused widespread criticism of the railroad, and it has been contended that the safety of the traveling public required a better type of roadbed than some portions of that section of the line between New York and New Haven now have. While more and heavier trains have continually been added, it is declared that the stability of track equipment and roadbed have not been kept up to the demands made upon them.

On this main line from New Haven to New York all the various lines of the system converge, putting the heaviest traffic at this end. The number and similarity of the accidents in this one section of the system are the grounds on which most of the complaints are based. In the case of the accident in 1911 at Bridgeport and investigation absolved the railway, and placed the blame upon the dead engineer. The Public Utilities Commission is now preparing its report on the Westport wreck, and the latest disasters are also under investigation.

The New York Times, New York, NY 18 Nov 1912