Chicago, IL Commuter Train Wreck, Oct 1972 - 39 Dead, 200 Hurt

The Accident Scene



Chicago (AP) -- Thirty-nine people were killed and more than 200 injured Monday when an electric commuter train that was trying to back up after apparently overshooting a station was rammed from behind by another during the morning rush hour authorities said.

Hospitals said some of the injured were in serious condition.

It was the worst railroad accident in the United States in nearly 22 years.

As the toll of dead mounted, firemen worked to free passengers from the twisted wreckage. Their screams were heard above the noises of torches and wrecking bars.
The crash occurred on a flat stretch of land near the 27th street platform of the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, which transports about 35,000 commuters daily between the city and suburbs to the south. One of the trains had four cars; the other six.

Nine Minutes Apart.
The two commuter trains, which had left about nine minutes apart from a far south side terminal, were less than 10 minutes from the downtown station when the crash occurred about 7:40 a.m.

H. G. MULLINS, superintendent for (unreadable words) said the lead train apparently ran past the station platform and was attempting to back up when the second train struck it.
The National Transportation Safety Board in Washington sent specialists to investigate on the basis of reports that the location of the crash was protected by automatic signals.
DONNA POSEY, an injured passenger in the first car of the second train, said a crewman shouted a warning about 20 seconds before the wreck.

"Everybody got up and just as we got up, we hit. Everybody screamed and there was a pile-up of people," she said.

10 Trapped.
Three hours after the crash, at least 10 persons were trapped inside one of the train cars officials said.

A doctor at the scene from nearby Michael Reese hospital reported several of those killed were cut in half by the impact.

The lead train carried four new double-decker cars with each cars capacity about 155 persons, a railroad spokesman said. The rear train carried older cars, each having a capacity of about 85 persons.

The spokesman said the cars were filled because of the rush hour.

BARBARA KUKULSKI, a passenger in the lead car, said the rear double-decker car, "just collapsed like tinfoil" at impact. "There was blood all over the place."
A call for blood went out to the Chicago area to help treat the injured.

Hospitals reporting deaths were Mercy, Michael Reese, Cook County and Billings.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette Iowa 1972-10-30


45 Years ago...

I just read about this accident today via a Facebook post and after some Googling came across this webpage. Very sad story but fascinating to read the survivors' accounts in the comments section! Someone on the FB posting indicated that they heard that the engineer of the Bi-Level train (that was backing up) later committed suicide. Yet one more tragedy from this incident if true...

IC Wreck

Lisa, I don't know if you'll see this - I just saw your response today! But I thought I'd write on the small chance that you'll be on here at this time of the year - can't believe it's 45 years since the accident. Well, here's what's been happening the past 40 years....
While I was in the hospital (at Billings) my then boyfriend proposed to me - he was so freaked out that he almost lost me. When I got out of the hospital, we went shopping for a ring! and got married in Sept. of '73. I continued to work downtown for the US Civil Service Commission for about another year, but then stopped working. In '74 we built our first home in Dyer IN and a year later I had our first son. ( Who is now married and has a boy and a girl - 11 and 9 respectively) 1978 brought our second son ( who also has a girl and a boy - 5 and 2 ). It's awesome being a grandma and they both live within a few miles of us. In '84 we had a job transfer and moved to Cedar Rapids, IA where we still are living. We've led a pretty quiet life, Dean and I. We traveled a bit, but are more homebodies. 2001 I opened an internet shop, designing and printing personalized note cards, stationary, address labels and recipe cards. It did extremely well and I had a good ten years with it. In 2002, almost a year to the day that I opened my business, I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease - I was 48. I've been fortunate - it hasn't progressed quickly and I'm actually doing quite well 15 years later. I've been fortunate to have had 2 incredible doctors through the years who have taken excellent care of me. I don't know if I'd call it fortunate or just that it wasn't meant to be, but that morning a friend of mine from high school (we had just graduated in May) passed by my seat (I was in the 3rd seat upstairs on the right side of the train, behind the 2 individual seats that face each other) She was with her sister and another friend. She stopped to say hi and invited me to sit with them, but I declined. As you can remember, it was a dreary, cold rainy day and I just didn't feel very talkative. We agreed to get together another day, knowing now that we both took the same train. She was sitting in the last seats in the back of the car, where there were 2 double seats facing each other. I've thought about her SO many times, and her family, both she and her sister died - being a mother now myself, I don't know how her mother handled the pain of losing 2 daughters. I've had survivor's guilt, wondering why they were taken so young, while I was so close to sitting with them, but didn't and I'm here. So many times I've wished that I could have talked to her mother and just tell her that they never knew what hit them. They certainly didn't suffer and experience pain. I know it's a small consolation and she'll never get daughters back - at least not in this life - but I wanted so badly to assure her of that. I was in the hospital and missed the funerals of my friend and her sister, also another friend from high school and another friend's father. Sorry, I didn't mean to ramble on.... it's just amazing to me that it could be 45 years later and it's still as fresh as if it happened yesterday. It was a huge thing to work through and deal with at 18 years old. I attended a couple of individual counselling sessions, but I didn't feel like they had a clue what I had gone through. Nowadays, they have immediate counselling for PTSD - it wasn't even known of back then.
So LIsa, if you see this, please write back and tell me "what you've been doing these past 45 years." I read that you were a photographer - I'd love to hear more of your story. Thanks for reading my rambles.... take care.

Almost 44 years ago

Nineteen years ago I called the Chicago Tribune to ask them to send me a copy of whatever article they would be writing about the 25th anniversary of the train wreck. Well, they had no plans to write one, but after talking to me it seemed like a good idea. So they came to Cincinnati to interview me, and they interviewed a number of other people as well. I have recently talked to a couple of people who read that article. But OMG, reading these years' worth of comments, stories and recollections is so powerful.

I was on the upper level of the front half of the last car on the new train. I had entered in the middle, wondering where I would find a seat, having gotten on at the 55th St. station. I was alone and knew no one else. At 23, my medical student husband (at U of C) had dropped me off and taken our 5 month old daughter to child care and then went on to class.

I literally "never knew what hit me." I was instantly unconscious, but in a dream-like state, I knew that my legs hurt and I wondered if my baby was safe. I had cuts on my head and legs, but my worst injury was a lacerated liver. They told me after the surgery that they had only learned how to stop the liver from bleeding a few years before. But for that medical discovery, I would have died from the injury. I still have train wreck dirt embedded in a scar at my hairline. A dermatologist recently called it a tattoo. Who knew!

After about 2 weeks I was discharged from Mercy Hospital and my mother took me to Ohio with her to recuperate until January. So I missed all the support groups I heard they held at Billings, and never talked to anyone else who had been on the train. I exchanged letters with Lisa after that article, and then last week had a long talk with Kathy, who was in the back half of that car. I have continued to think about how my injuries were life-threatening, but I knew nothing of what was happening around me. She, on the other hand, had a broken leg, but was trapped for hours and was very aware of every minute of it, including the impact and the cries for help. Each of us has our own story and memories.

So thank you all for sharing. It has been two years since anyone has posted, but it is "that time of year again" so maybe someone will read this before 2 more years pass. It has been a great gift to read all your stories. It is hard to express to others how this moment in time has affected me. But each of you know all too well. Maybe in ways much harder than my experience. I am continually humbled knowing that my life continued and brought 4 more children into the world. But at the same time, so many other lives were stopped short. Far too short. Thanks for listening.

Lisa Lyman

Was her name Lisa Lyman

IC Wreck

OMG! I just looked at this page and saw your message. Of course I remember your visit, although I was quite a's a miracle I remember anything with all the morphine they were pumping into me. So what's been happening the past 40-something years?!

Train accident page

Hi Jim!

I just Googled myself for the heck of it and came across this site. Bob never told me about it. Hope you are doing well.


Train wreck Survivor

I was on the new train in the center vestibule of the north car on my way to work as a painter
for the Illinois Central RR. My paint shop was located
just north of the 27th st station, so my everyday stop was 27th st.
If any other survivors of this wreck want to contact me

In IC Train Accident October 1972

Unbelievable 42 years ago this happen, I was 19 years old at the time commuting to work downtown. Yesterday my sister called & reminded me the anniversary of the train accident. She said I never told her the details of my experience, which I did last night. I sat in the new double decker train, the last car lower level. I remember the train was pack with rush hour commuters, some standing in the isle. Our train over shot its stop, the conductor told the engineer to back the train up to let out passengers. Next thing I know, the conductor runs past us & jumps out of the train. I looked out of the window & saw the conductor looking south waving his hands, which at that time did not know why he was doing this. Next thing I know I was waking up, realized I past out. The upper decker came crashing down on us, with the impact my seat bended forwarded trapping me in my seat. I could not see well, with the impact my eye glasses flew off. When I came too, I look around & could see the sky, the train had split in half. The people that were standing in the isle were no longer there, they fell below on the tracks due to the train splitting in half. Our train partially tilted off the track which frightened me fearing the whole train would fall over. I could hear all the people crying, screaming asking to help them. I felt horrible hearing them in agony & not being able to do anything to help them. We waited for the fire department to arrive in order to get us out. They welded the window off in order to reach us. After being pulled from the train, I started crying uncontrollably, someone slapped me I guess see that I was in shock. I don't remember what hospital I was taken to, but when arriving I was treated for a laceration to my head, received stiches. I also had a server concussion, could not bend or look down for a while as the pressure in my head was so bad. What was annoying were the lawyers that called my hospital room continuously wanting to represent me for a possible lawsuit. I am very grateful that I did no sustain severe injuries & came out of this alive. When checking with the web site to see if there were any write ups regarding this train accident, I came across this web site by accident. Thank you all for sharing yours experiences & memories.

Jim what a place to find you

Found my way to this site on the anniversary of this terrible event. I remebered you were a friend of Lisa and you came to mind when I read her name and boom , there you are. We looked for you for a Warren reunion - please get in touch if you can.

Chicago, IL Commuter Train Wreck, Oct 1972 - 39 Dead, 200 Hurt

I read the newspaper archives in the library a few years ago of this infamous accident, and I recall reading the engineer of the the highliners name was James Watt(s), and the name of the engineer of the old heavweight train was Cavanaugh (don't remember what his first name was). I lived about a mile from the IC main line and about 2 1/2 miles from the accident scene. I was 8 years old at the time, and it happened the day before Halloween to which I went trick or treating at the time. But it was rather odd for me, given the notoriety of the accident, I heard no one talk about it at the time. I didn't hear anyone talk about it until a few months later and even then it seemed the dialog about was taken lightly! Fast forward to 2014, anyone acquainted with the area around the 27th street IC/Metra station 10 to 15 years ago or more, would hardly recognize the place. With so much of Michael Reese Hospital facility being gone, it's hardly patronized, so it's deserted most of the time. Looking at the station from afar, it looks like it's in the middle of nowhere! I was thinking about it the other day seeing the station is still there, Metra Electric has dedicated other stations on its lines. They've even put up a plaque at the Millennium Station for Wilbur Hooten, the conductor who was killed on a train at one of the stops in the Blue Island route. Why not put a sort of plaque and dedicate the 27th street station to those all those who died or suffered as a result of the October 30, 1972 accident?