Bowie, MD Train Wreck, Feb 1961

Train Wreck Kills Six

130 Race Fans Hurt; 7 Cars Jump Tracks

BOWIE, Md., (AP) - Six persons were killed and about 130 injured Thursday when a special train carrying some 300 passengers derailed near Bowie Race Course.
Rescue workers searched the seven battered and tilted coaches until darkness covered the southern Maryland countryside, without finding additional victims. The dead included five passengers and a dining car waiter.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Railroad said one coach, in which a seventh body was believed to have been trapped, was thoroughly searched and no body was found.
The coach will not be moved until Friday but the spokesman said authorities were reasonably certain no more victims would be found.

The 11-car train originated in Philadelphia and picked up additional passengers at five stops along the way.

The crash occurred about three miles from the race track, at a point where the train leaves the main line and enters a spur track to the left side.

More than 90 persons were treated at nine hospitals in the Baltimore-Washington area and another 40 were treated by the race track physician.

The railroad said the dead were:
DANIEL J. BELANCIO, 1428 South Penn St., Philadelphia.
BENJAMIN A. GOOD, 615 N. Duke St., Lancaster, Pa.
ROBERT B. SELDOMRIDGE, 534 Terrace Road, Lancaster, Pa.
FRED W. CRAMER, JR., R. D. 2, York, Pa.
BENJAMIN GRADY, R. D. 1, Spring City, Chester County, Pa.
FLOYD JONES, 15 Albany Ave., Brooklyn, N. Y., a dining car waiter.

The engineer, HOWARD W. HORNER, 62, of Camden, N. J., told state police his brakes failed to slow the train as it approached a cutoff leading to the race track some three miles away.

HORNER said he was traveling at about 30 miles an hour when he tried to apply the brakes.

The two diesel engines pulling the train derailed and toppled on their side down an embankment between the main line and the spur. The next two coaches followed the engine and were tilted as they left the track.

The third, fourth and fifth coaches followed the spur and derailed but did not overturn. They were badly smashed and one had a gaping hole torn in its side.
The last two derailed coaches remained on the main line as did the four coaches which stayed on the rails. One of the three main line tracks was torn up, but the other two remained open.

The train was carrying passengers to Bowie, where a 48-day winter racing meet is in progress.

The card went ahead as scheduled, but the ninth and last race was called off because of a fire in an empty grandstand annex building at the head of the stretch.

The fire, which broke out during the eighth race, poured heavy smoke over the track and blocked visibility. The building, containing ticket windows, is used only on race days in which the crowd overflows from the main grandstand.

No one was hurt in the fire. "Everything that can happen today did happen," one race fan said.

Many of those aboard the train apparently made it to the track for the races, despite the shock of the wreck.

"We were thrown around like rag dolls," said HARRY A. SMITH of Philadelphia, one of the passengers in the derailed club car.

The train originated at Philadelphia where some 175 passengers boarded. Others got on at Chester, Pa., Wilmington, Del., and Elkton, Aberdeen and Baltimore, Md.
Iron rails were twisted in the air and cross-ties broken to splinters at the snow-covered scene. The weather was clear but cold.

The weck[sic] occurred about 12:25 p. m. at the Jericho Park junction, about 25 miles southeast of Baltimore and about 15 miles northeast of Washington. It had left Philadelphia at 11 a. m. and was due at the track about 1 p. m.

Rescue workers worked for several hours to recover two of the bodies, trapped in the twisted mass of metal.

Both the engineer and fireman, WILLIAM CHARLES WYATT, 42, of Philadelphia, escaped without serious injury.

The Post-Standard Syracuse New York 1961-02-03


1961 Bowie Train Wreck

My brother , William Charles Wyatt, was the fireman on this train. He took his own life seven years later. I don't personally recall this event, but family lore holds that Billy (William) and the engineer, Howard Horner, walked for three days to DC.

1961 Bowie Race Train wreck

This accident was well-documented by the NTSB and they determined the engineer did not apply his brakes to slow down and was apparently less than well-familiar with the sharp curve and slow order for entering into the Race Track spur. One interesting and somewhat amusing story has survived and that involves the passengers who trudged thru the snow that February 1961 day to place their bets at the track. Arriving bloodied, scraped up and bruised, at least one handicapper was allegedly heard to say something to the effect of coming all the way from Philadelphia to place a bet and he was going to do so.