Elizabeth, NJ Train Plunges Off Drawbridge, Sept 1958

21 Bodies, 2 Cars Fished Out

ELIZABETH, N. J. (AP) – Divers and barge crewmen struggled under difficult conditions today at the grim task of recovering dead from a commuter train that plunged from an open drawbridge into the waters of Newark Bay yesterday.
One Jersey Central Railroad coach hauled from the murky depths early today contained 13 bodies, making a total of 21 recovered thus far. The railroad estimated that some 40 persons perished.
Thirty-five train passengers were injured.
It was believed that swirling waters of the bay may have carried some bodies to distant points. In such case, recovery might not be for days or weeks – or ever.
A second coach was pulled out shortly before noon. Observers said one body could be seen through a window. It was not determined whether others were inside.
The coach had been reported as a “deadhead” on the train, that is, running empty. However, the railroad said a trainman or others may have gone into it.
Still at the bottom of the bay was a third coach. It was one which remained for a time leaning upright against the bridge, partly out of the water, enabling a number of passengers to scramble to safety.
Railroad officials were puzzled that no more bodies had been found because most of the victims were believed to have been riding in the car brought up.
The railroad said it was staying with its estimate that another 20 persons had lost their lives. This estimate was predicated primarily on calls from anxious persons who said relatives were missing and might have been on the train.
At the scene itself, a giant floating crane was being used to try to bring up the remaining coach but apparently was having difficulty with tides and the job of attaching cables onto the coach.
Probes were launched in an effort to answer the prime question – what caused the train to keep going down the tracks toward the open drawbridge despite devices which should have halted it?
The engineer perished. His body was recovered, and an autopsy was scheduled to see if he were incapacitated in any way. The fireman was missing.
The train traveled past three warning signals, plus a derailing device, but all were to be given a thorough examination.
Removal of the locomotive from the water also might provide a clue as to whether a mechanical failure prevented a halt.
The railroad said the twin-unit diesel was not equipped with a “dead man's control”-- a device to stop it automatically upon release of controls by the engineer – because it was an engine normally operated by two men.
The engines were pulling five coaches as the train rolled into the bay. Three of the coaches came to rest on the silty bottom. The two others remained on the approach.

Slight Damage
The first coach recovered, in which 13 bodies were found, showed little outward damage. Broken windows and bodies projecting from them gave evidence of the effort to escape.
The bodies were taken to the Bayonne morgue for identification.
Federal and state agencies immediately launched investigations of the cause of the mysterious tragedy. The Interstate Commerce Commission, the New Jersey Public Utility Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers began probes, and the railroad said it was conducting its own investigation. They all wanted to know if men or machines caused the accident.

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