Bridgeport, CT Train Wreck, Jul 1911 - Cause of the Wreck

Bridgeport, CT Train Wreck, photo from familyoldphotos.com Bridgeport, CT Train Wreck, photo from familyoldphotos.com

Engineer at Fault.

The Federal Express, known officially in railroad circles as the Boston and Washington Express, passed the switch point at Fairfield Crossing, a mile and a half west of Bridgeport, this morning at twenty-eight minutes of four o'clock, and instantly a day coach, four sleepers and two baggage cars plunged off the viaduct at the crossing to the street, fifteen feet below, some of the cars turning completely over, while the day coach was smashed into a heap of splinters, in which, among other passengers, were the twenty-two members of the St. Louis baseball team, remained on the rails, while a third left the rails and shot half way over the edge of the viaduct, where it hung suspended so delicately that a shove from the hand of a child might have sent it toppling over upon the sleeper that lay beneath.

Of those now dead eleven were killed instantly, judging from the frightful manner in which they were mangled. Of the forty-nine in the hospitals four at least cannot possibly live. It was believed early in the afternoon that other bodies would be found beneath the crushed sleeper Atreus, but the debris of nearly all had been cleared away tonight and no traces of other bodies could be found.

The full responsibility for the accident is laid upon A. M. Curtis, the engineer, by the railroad officials. Curtis was instantly killed and his side of the story can never be known, but the officials of the road assert that at the inquest it will be clearly shown that the wreck of the Federal Express was due to a direct violation of one of the most rigidly enforced rules of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, that no "cross over" shall be taken at a higher rate than fifteen miles an hour.

Not a Freight Man

It was at first reported that Curtis was a freight engineer and that he had taken the Federal Express to relieve the regular engineer of this train, who had been doing an extra tour of work.

Division Superintendent Woodward in Bridgeport today stated that Curtis had been on this run for eight years on a passenger train and that during the greater part of that time he had been in charge of the engine drawing the Federal Express. He was thoroughly familiar with the work and the route traveled by the express and his mistake in taking "the crossover" at sixty miles an hour cannot be explained except on the theory that being and hour and fourteen minutes late, he either took a long chance or throttled down too late.

Several witnesses have been found by the railroad officials who will swear that the train had been throttled down and was slowing when the switch was approached, but Clarence Hemingway, the tower man, asserts that Curtis was bringing the express across the viaduct at a full sixty miles an hour and had made no effort to stop. The railroad officials admit that the train was going at this rate and the mute but powerful evidence to be found in the shattered engine bears out the statement that no attempt was made to slow down. The throttle was found wide open.

The accident was due primarily to an order to leave the baggage car belonging to the United States Fish Commission at Bridgeport. Thirty cans of young trout had been put off at Stamford and the car with the remaining cars was to have been sidetracked at Bridgeport but the request had come from Washington to have this car dropped at this point and orders had been given to this effect.

The Fish Commission

Going through Bridgeport on its regular schedule, the Federal Express would have kept on track number two and there would have been no necessity to slow down. In order to drop the Fish Commission's car, however, it was necessary to cross over to track number four. The road rules provide that always in switching a train must reduce speed to fifteen miles an hour. The reason is simple. It is impossible to bank the rails on the curve of a switch as they are banked on a simple curve and a train taking a curve at a high rate of speed is certain to fly the outer rails. This was sensationally and tragically shown in New York a few years ago when a Ninth Avenue Elevated train into the street below.

It is thought that Curtis forgot his orders to stop at Bridgeport, and having been accustomed to passing Bridgeport along the straight track made no attempt to slow down. He had passed Fairfield more than three miles west of the Fairfield crossing in Bridgeport at 29 minutes after 3 o'clock. His train struck the switch at Fairfield crossing at 28 minutes of 4 o'clock, showing a speed of more than a mile a minute. He should have passed the station at Bridgeport at 19 minutes after 2 o'clock. The locomotive was of the type known officially as "type 800," but known to railroad men generally as a "grasshopper," enormous ten-wheeler.

It was in the grayish dark period just before dawn when the huge engine came tearing across the fields from the west and Clarence Hemingway, in the tower, in that direction. He called Stamford to the west, however, found his wire working, and notified the towerman there of the wreck, and the message was sent through to New Haven by long distance telephone.

Hemingway, after setting the proper signals to stop any trains that might get past Stamford or Fairfield, rushed down the embankment to the assistance of those imprisoned in the coaches. He worked there until 10 o'clock in the morning and as he had not returned home the report was spread that he had disappeared.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA 12 Jul 1911