Woodbridge, NJ Commuter Train Plunges Off Trestle, Feb 1951
PARSONS asked for a signed statement from one passenger, ROBERT THALER, of Fair Haven. THALER said he saw a burning journal box on the fourth car of the train before it left Newark -- its last stop before the wreck.
THALER told PARSONS by telephone this car's undercarriage may have collapsed as it whipped across the trestle.
The train pulled out of Jersey City at 5:10 P. M. Commuters from New York board it there after coming under the Hudson River by tube train.
It was more crowded than usual because another commuter line, the Jersey Central, was knocked out by the switchmen's "sick call" strike. Many Central commuters elbowed in with the estimated 900 passengers who daily ride "The Broker."
The train snaked its way from Newark across suburban North Jersey in the darkness of early evening. The lights of busy industrial areas along the tracks flicked by its windows.
Then it hit the trestle, the engineer fighting the brakes to try and control it.
"I heard him throw on the air brakes three times as she came down a grade and onto the temporary tracks," said Attorney IRVING W. TEEPLE, on his way home to Leonardo, N. J., from his Newark law office.
"He was doing his level best to hold her back."
But the steam engine rolled on across the trestle for about three car lengths.
"It just went bounce, bounce, bounce -- and then there was a terrible noise," said another passenger, NORMAN MERZ.
The big engine left the tracks and plunged in an arc to the pavement of a street below, in this city of 27,000 persons 30 miles south of New York.
Behind it, the first five cars of the train went this way and that in a jumble of jagged steel. Some of them turned over in the thick mud of the embankment. Others stayed upright, grotesquely twisted across the rails or along the embankment.
Passengers were tossed about inside the coaches like dice in a cup. Many were mangled to bits under the grinding weight of sharp, broken metal.
Others survived or died in tomblike crevasses of steel, as some of the cars were bent into a U-shape by the terrible force of the crash. It took about seven hours -- until after midnight -- to dig and saw the last one clear.
The moans of trapped men and women rose on the night air. One man pinned under a heavy coach wheel begged feebly:
"Help, help me."
Ambulances hurried to the scene from all over North Jersey. Blood plasma was sent from New York and Jersey City.
A morgue was set up in a garage. Blood-splattered rescue workers tenderly placed the dead in long rows, then pulled brown sheets of paper over their still forms. The feet of the dead sprawled limp, uncovered by the paper shrouds.
Acetylene torches sputtered beneath the eerie rays of big spotlights, the torches biting first this way and then that around trapped passengers.
Small ladders were laid against the slime of the embankment. And other big fire department ladders also were moved up to get at the coaches. The dead and injured, pulled free, were placed on the stretchers and handed down the ladders.
Many of the passengers, as they groped for freedom in the darkness that followed the crash, thought the wreck had occurred over a river. The tracks cross rivers at several points in the area.
Their impression was gained from the glazed look of streets below. Melted snow had wet them and the water reflected the dull glare of street lights beside the tracks.
"All I wanted to do was get out," said passenger WILLIAM M. HALL of Red Bank. "But I thought I was over water and wanted to dive out."
There was panic in some of the coaches, calm heroism in others.
A vast crowd of thousands quickly pressed on the scene, getting in the way of rescue workers. Finally, National Guardsmen joined state police to push the crowd back from streets beneath the trestle.
Ashen-pale relatives of passengers kept a pitiful, grim vigil around buildings used as morgues. It took hours to identify some of the badly torn bodies.
The last big rail disaster in the metropolitan New York area occurred Thanksgiving Eve at Kew Gardens, N. Y., when 79 persons died in a Long Island Rail Road train wreck. Thirty-two Long Island passengers were killed at Rockville Centre last Feb. 17.
The Pennsylvania once owned and operated the Long Island. However, the Long Island went into bankruptcy before the wrecks and since has been operated under the supervision of a New York federal court.