Commuter Trains Crash In New York City – 11/22/1950

US History |


Today, it seems that a month does not go by without hearing about some sort of accident that involves trains. Whether it refers to shipments of oil or commuter trains, the news ends up reporting about something going wrong where the end result is some sort of a crash. Maybe I am embellishing on the frequency of these incidents and they happen less frequent than I have suggested; nonetheless, they do occur at a rate where technology and regulations of today should be guarding against something going wrong where barely any accidents should be happening. The crashes of decades past should be a reminder of what can happen if the people in charge become too complacent in their responsibilities. 

Take for example what happened on November 22nd, 1950 when two Long Island Railroad (LIRR) commuter trains crashed into each other. The worst in LIRR history, 79 people died where the horrific rear-end collision occurred due to defective equipment.

The Richmond Hills part of Queens is where the accident happened as a twelve-car train was transporting passengers to Hempstead, Long Island from Manhattan was commanded to slow down upon arriving in the Queen’s station. The speed was reduced to fifteen miles per hour by engineer William Murphy and then completely stops. The rear flagman, Bertram Biggin, left the train as the train was stopped on the tracks with a red lamp so he could prepare any oncoming trains that another train was present.

The Hempstead-bound train was preparing to continue on its’ journey once they saw the green light that signals it is okay to go on. While Biggin’s was getting back on the train, something happened when the train pulled in that causes the brakes to be stuck. Unknowingly unaware of what was going on, an express train on the same tracks that was heading to Babylon was mere minutes behind and they had been given the green light to move on. Astonishingly, the Babylon train slammed into the back of the Hempstead train moving at forty miles per hour; it smashed into and beneath the back of the car which flung it up into the air! Tragically, the motorman in the Babylon train, Benjamin Pokorney, was dead as well as everyone riding in the rear car. Those who endured major injuries totaled 363 people.

When a tragedy of this magnitude happens, it is obviously bad enough. However, when finding out that this could have been prevented is an entirely different matter and simply enrages people. One person who did not hold back his feelings was the New York City Mayor at this time, Vincent Impellitari. Impellitari named the LIRR as being a “disgraceful common carrier” upon the discovery of what was responsible for the accident as the cause was defective equipment that was not taken care of as it should have been. The families as well as the victims were eventually awarded millions of dollars in damages.

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