Salem, IL Passenger Train Derails, June 1971




Salem, Ill. (AP) -- A locked wheel that may have been caused by an electrical failure was blamed today for the flaming derailment Thursday of the City of New Orleans passenger liner. Eleven persons died and 94 others were injured in the spectacular accident.
The 14-car streamliner was being pulled by four locomotives at better than 90 miles an hour when it left the track two miles north os Salem. There were 224 persons aboard the train, including 18 crewmen.
Jim Law superintendent of the railroad's Illinois division, said a rear wheel on the lead engine started sliding 1 1/2 miles north of the accident scene but the train's engineer never knew it.
The derailment occurred, Law said, when the wheel, misshapen by the friction of sliding, struck a crossing mechanism which railroaders call a
"If there hadn't been a crossover there, the defect might have been detected as the train rounded a bend further on," Law said. "We suspect it was an electrical malfunction in the traction works."
The crash was the first major accident under the new national Amtrak system, under which the Illinois Central operates.
Investigators from the National Rail Safety Board, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Illinois Commerce Commission were probing the wreckage today.
Alan S. Boyd, IC president, flew from Chicago and toured the wreckage for two hours. He said the crossover switch was not opened and said the track was "in first class condition."
The train departed Chicago at 8 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans at 1:30 a.m. today. The accident occurred about 12:20 p.m. near Tonti, a whistle stop 240 miles south of Chicago and 96 miles east of St. Louis.
Witnesses said 1,200 feet of track were twisted and hurled by the crash. Ambulances and fire equipment sped from nearby communities to fight the killing flames and rescue victims mangled by the rails.
"God, it was horrible," one survivor said. "I saw a woman pinned under the rails and she had to be cut free. She later died."
Jim Hunter, 23, another resident, said, "The cars were scattered like spaghetti."
Passengers were slammed through the plate glass windows of the coaches. Rescue squads used acetylene torches to cut rails pinning victims.
The injured were taken to hospitals in Salem, Centralia, Mount Vernon and St. Louis.
The Salem High School was used as a refuge for survivors who tried to find their families or traveling companions. The armory was converted to a temporary morgue.

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Tonti Train Accident

I recall the Tonti train accident almost like it was yesterday. I was a new nurse at the local hospital (my third day on the job). My mother was also a nurse there. With your description of your mother's ear injury I can clearly remember that she was the first person to arrive at the hospital alerting us to the horrors of the accident that had just occurred. It was the first we knew of what had happened and at that moment it was it was difficult for us to grasp the enormity of what we were facing. Although I wasn't directly involved in her care, I remember your mother well and have thought of her each time I think of the accident. I have wondered many times since then how she did afterwards. Also I feel pretty certain that your mother is the person my mother brought to our house afterwards so she could clean up, eat, and rest for a while before going back to the hospital to be with your father. She was a very nice lady. Your post was very interesting to me!

City of New Orleans Survivors

My Mother Helen Harbin and Father Gene Harbin were in this crash and were not mentioned here as passengers. They were in the dining car eating when the accident happened. My Mother was one of the passengers thrown out the window into a culvert and car they were in rolled over on top of her but did not crush her because of her being in a culvert . My Father crawled out of the window she was thrown out of and had to dig their way out from under the car to get free. He then went back in the dining car to get others out and there were several people that were killed in the dining car. He had nightmares for years after seeing this. He pulled many survivors out and I remember them telling me that a Farmer came by in a pickup truck and the farmer loaded them up with other survivors in the bed of the truck to take them to the local hospital. My Mother had a bad head injury actually cutting most of her ear off, the local hospital reattached her ear and a few weeks later she had to taken to Barnes Hospital in St Louis to have her ear amputated from infection, and many reconstructive surgeries after. I remember not seeing her much for almost a year after the accident. I was 5 years old and my sister was not even 1 year old yet.
I remember my Father telling me about the one body they never identified. My Father also worked in management for ICGRR in Paducah and he and my mother were coming back from his management meeting in Chicago when the train derailed. The Railroad provided their transportation to Chicago and back from the meeting. My Father also told me that the derailment was not caused by a locked wheel bearing, that it was caused by a disabled Locomotive that some kind of gearbox was put into neutral and there was a pin that was supposed to be installed to keep it in neutral but the pin was not installed and the gearbox slipped back into gear causing the wheels to lock and then the train to derail. He also said that ICGRR also had a man on the scene the day after the accident to install the pin to try to cover up what had happened and the man was caught doing it. ICGRR also sent a lawyer to the hospital that my dad was in from injuries recieved in the derailment to try to get him to sign a release that he would not sue them for what happened. My Dad did not sign but did not sue them but he and my mom did recieve a settlement for compensation of there injuries.
My Mother has a scrapbook with many news paper clippings and pictures of the accident.

I was a student at SIU at

I was a student at SIU at the time. I had decided never to ride the train again after several trips from Chicago to SIU. The train was not safe. I hitch hiked instead, and on that day, I asked my rid eto let me out. I walked the corn field over from I55 and helped pull th einjured from the over turned train.

Injured passenger

My mother was Mildred Moore of Chicago. My mother would always talk about how horrible and gruesome this accident actually was. I am so glad that she made it through. My sister was also in the accident, but was not listed as one of the survivors. I believe at the time she was 1 or less that 1 years old. I am so glad that God was with them and spared their lives!!!!

June 10 1971 Salem Illinois train accident

My mother Mildred Moore was one of the survivors. She told me that I was in the accident also but I don't see my name. My name at that time was Luz Garcia age 1.