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Brooklyn also suffered tragic train accidents

The aftermath of the infamous Malbone Street wreck underneath what is now Empire Boulevard on Nov. 1, 1918. MTA NYC Transit file photo

Bronx derailment is far from unique

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

People throughout the United States on Monday were shocked at the news of Sunday’s fatal train derailment on Metro-North’s Hudson line near Spuyten Duyvil, Bronx. 

Investigators mined data recorders and sought to question the engineer and conductor for clues to why the commuter train jumped the tracks along a sharp curve.

We should remember, though, that Brooklyn also has had its share of train derailments and wrecks – some fatal.

The most notorious was the Nov. 1, 1918 Malbone Street wreck, in which a staggering 93 people died. The accident occurred in the tunnel approaching Prospect Park on what is now the Q line.

Several wooden elevated cars slammed into a concrete wall after the inexperienced motorman – who had no experience driving a passenger train and was only given the job because of a strike – lost control of the train, which was going about 50 miles per hour on a stretch of track designed for trains traveling at 6 miles per hour.

The experience so traumatized Brooklyn that Malbone Street was renamed Empire Boulevard, a name it retains to this day. In addition, the wreck signified the beginning of the end for wooden subway and “el” cars.

Another serious wreck occurred in 1923 atop the now-demolished Fifth Avenue elevated line near Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. One wooden car slammed into another, and both jumped the track and descended to the street.  Eight people were killed and 70 were injured, even though this time the motorman was going only 12 miles per hour.

Closer to our own own era, in June 2000, a subway train derailed as it pulled out of the DeKalb Avenue station. Eighty-four people were injured, three critically. Witnesses said they heard a noise that sounded like an explosion.

One passenger, Tanya Acevedo, told the New York Times, ''It was total chaos. 'There were people yelling 'Oh my God.' They were crying, they were screaming, they were praying.''

Just last year, a work train derailed near Atlantic Terminal on the Long Island Railroad. No passengers were on board, but service was disrupted. Similarly, a Franklin Avenue shuttle train derailed in 2005, but few people were on board and none were seriously injured.

The Metro-North commuter train that derailed on Sunday was hurtling at 82 mph as it entered a 30 mph curve, a federal investigator said Monday. But whether the wreck was the result of human error or brake trouble was unclear, he said.

Asked why the train was going so fast, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said: "That's the question we need to answer."

He would not disclose what the engineer operating the train had told investigators. Weener said investigators were examining the engineer's cellphone — apparently to determine whether he was distracted.

Weener said the information on the locomotive's speed was preliminary and extracted from the Metro-North train's two data recorders, taken from the wreckage after the Sunday morning accident in the Bronx.

He said the throttle went to idle six seconds before the derailed train came to a complete stop — "very late in the game" for a train going that fast — and the brakes were fully engaged five seconds before the train stopped.

Asked whether the tragedy was the result of human error or faulty brakes, Weener said: "The answer is, at this point in time, we can't tell."

December 3, 2013 - 8:30am


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