A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

History: Train Accident at Woodbridge, 1951

Below are two articles from the 8 Feb 1951 edition of The Matawan Journal related to an extremely serious train accident that occurred during the evening rush hour at Woodbridge, New Jersey. The paper said 88 passengers were killed and 500+ injured when their speeding train caused the collapse of a temporary train trestle over construction on the NJ Turnpike.

See also Woodbridge Township's site , GenDisasters, and the Wikipedia article.

Seven Dead, Eight Injured From Area In Pennsylvania Wreck At Woodbridge
Local Aid Squads, Police, Firemen, Join In Efforts To Aid Victims; Lack Of Service On Strikebound Jersey Central Crammed Train

Seven from his area were dead and eight injured in the still incomplete count of the casualties resulting from the Pennsylvania Railroad wreck Tuesday at Woodbridge. The total dead was 88 and over 500 were injured.

The dead:
  • Ruth I. Crimmins, 21, 111 Cleveland Ave., Laurence Harbor.
  • Irene J. DenBleyker, Matawan Rd., Laurence Harbor.
  • George W. Gracie, 46, 112 Morningside Ave., Laurence Harbor.
  • Leo W. Mullen. 28, of 411 Jefferson Ave., Laurence Harbor.
  • John A. Nordlund. 69, of 127 Laurence Pkway., Laurence Harbor.
  • Clarence W. Holmes, 58, of 220 Birchwood Dr., Cliffwood Beach.
  • George Bernius. Grove Ave., Laurence Harbor.
The injured:
  • Albert Clayton, RD Matawan, South Amboy Memorial Hospital. (discharged)
  • Christina Connelly, 256 Harding Ave., Laurence Harbor, Perth Amboy General Hospital.
  • Frank Flynn, 23, of 611 Aumack Ave., Union Beach, Perth Amboy General Hospital. Fractured pelvis.
  • James Gallagher, 878 State Highway, Laurence Harbor, Camp Kilmer Hospital.
  • John Hall, 206 Shoreland Circle, Laurence Harbor.
  • Evelyn Herrick, 336 Raritan Blvd., Cliffwood Beach, Perth Amboy General Hospital.
  • David Lembert, S Ocean Bvld., Cliffwood Beach, Perth Amboy General Hospital.
  • John E. Thurn, 481 Brookside Av., Laurence Harbor.
 Edgar Walling, Main St., Keyport, was on the train but reported only minor cuts.

Toll Could Have Been Higher

The casualty total for the area would have been much higher if it had been generally known by commuters from the Keyport-Matawan sector that the ill-fated train, known as "The Broker," leaving Exchange Place, Jersey City at 5:07 p.m., was making a special stop at Matawan to accommodate those who ordinarily rode the strike-bound, Jersey Central. On its regular schedule "The Broker" does not stop at Matawan.

Bayshore disaster relief units joined those of 20 other municipalities in assisting Woodbridge agencies in coping with the sudden and stunning catastrophe.

Keyport, Matawan, Union Beach, West Keansburg, and Keansburg First Aid Squads were rushed to the scene. The Keyport squad did standby duty for the Fords squad. As the Fords unit took victims from the wrecked cars, the Keyport squad made two trips, one to Perth Amboy and the second to a Long Branch hospital. The Matawan squad made two trips from the disaster scene to Perth Amboy General Hospital. Union Beach squad was held at home under orders until later in the evening, but they, too, were summoned to the scene in time to give aid to victims. They also had a stretcher squad atop one of the cars when the dead were being brought out. West Keansburg aidmen assisted in bringing victims out of the cars, according to Squad Capt. Leroy Hay. Keansburg had both ambulances at the scene and made runs to Perth Amboy General Hospital.

Chief Leroy Sproul and Patrolman William Geiger, Keyport Police, took Bert Peteler, a Keyport resident who Is a specialist in acetylene torch work, to the scene in the police car with oxygen tanks and torches. Tho two policemen were assigned to duty assisting Woodbridge Police control the crowds at the scene. Patrolman Robert McGowan, Matawan, also assisted with this work.

Many Rush To Scene

Many borough residents rushed to the scene, some in concern for the welfare of residents or to give aid, others out of curiosity. Others hurried to Matawan station for reports on the train, or to telephone to call any agency which might have a casualty list.

The accident occurred at 5:43 p.m. when the train entered a sharp curve on the temporary overpass opened three hours earlier to carry trains over construction work on the New Jersey Freeway. The exact cause was undetermined but it appeared to observers that a temporary wooden trestle had collapsed after the engine and the first five cars had cleared it.

The locomotive tender and first five cars of the 11-car train passed safely over the trestle, one car length across and supported by eighteen wooden tiles. Wheels of the sixth car apparently broke through the wooden bridge, causing a whip-lash action to convulse the train.

Engine Topples Over

The steam locomotive toppled over on its side but remained on top of the embankment. The tender fell to the west down the 25-foot embankment, landing in Fulton St., a roadway running parallel to the tracks.

The first and second cars slewed part way down the embankment, perilously tilted but not overturned. The third and fourth cars plunged farther down the embankment and were the worst damaged. They contained most of the dead and critically injured.

Tho fifth car rested on its side in the mud of the embankment just south of the bridge, while the sixth, under which the trestle appeared to have collapsed, spanned the trestle, resting on the concrete abutments at either end. One of its wheel trucks had dropped through the bridge and rested in Legion Pl. below.

The seventh and eighth cars appeared to have sheared past the sixth car, ripping open their sides and plowing down the embankment near the third and fourth coaches. The last three cars remained to the north of the bridge, upright on the tracks.

Going 50 Says Engineer

The engineer of "The Broker" admitted yesterday afternoon he was going 50 miles an hour, twice the authorized speed, when the train suddenly jumped the tracks.

Joseph H. Fitzsimmons, 57, of Point Pleasant, the veteran engineer, however blamed the absence of caution signals for the disaster. But Conductor John N. Bishop, also of Point Pleasant, declared he sensed the train was going much too fast for safety and was just about to pull the emergency brake for a slowdown when the smashup happened.

Both the railroad and the Turnpike Authority, which built the temporary overpass where the train left the tracks, absolved the trestle from blame. Assistant Middlesex County prosecutor Alex Eber questioned the
engineer and the conductor in their hospital cots. Neither was injured seriously.

Mr. Eber said Mr. Fitzsimmons admitted he had read orders limiting speed to 25 miles per hour over the trestle. When he reached the Woodbridge station area, where the train was not scheduled to stop, he cut his speed from 60 to 50 miles, he told Mr. Eber, and began to looking for amber caution signals when he was about 2500 feet from the trestle.

Mr. Fitzsimmons said he would have reduced his speed further if there had been any.signals, adding that it was the rallroad's responsibility to see that proper signals were in operation.

According to Mr. Eber, Mr. Fitzsimmons said he began applying his brakes about 2300 feet from the trestle. "Then something happened to the train and  it was derailed," he said.

But, Mr. Eber said, Mr. Bishop pointed to the speed of the train, which was rounding a curve on an upgrade approaching the overpass.

Conductor's Story

Mr. Eber said Mr. Bishop, the conductor, told this story of the wreck:

"Before we left Jersey City I spoke to Mr. Fitzsimmons and discussed the order limiting speed to 25 miles an hour in the vicinity of the trestle.

"The train was unusually crowded because the Jersey Central was not operating due to the switchman's "sickness" strike.

"Because of my experience as a conductor I sensed that we were on an upgrade and going much too fast. I was just going to reach for the emergency cord when the train was derailed. I felt no braking immediately before the 'wreck."

Mr. Eber said he also learned from railroad officials that there was no speedometer on the wrecked
locomotive, that there were no caution signals in the area, and that no advance safety tests had been made of the trestle.

However, Mr. Eber joined the railroad and Turnpike Authority in insisting the trestle was sound. There was no evidence, he said, that the trestle collapsed before the train jumped the tracks.

Wreck Victims

Below is obituary information on six of the seven Laurence Harbor-Cliffwood residents who died in Tuesday's tragic rail wreck, at Woodbridge:

Crimmins Rites

Services for Miss Crimmins, daughter of John W. Crimmins, Madison Township committeeman, will be held from the Day Funeral Home, Keyport, Saturday at 8 a.m. A requiem mass will be celebrated in St. Lawrence's Church, Laurence Harbor, at 9. Employed by a New York insurance firm, Miss Crimmins is survived, besides her father, by a brother, John C. Oakland, Calif., and her stepmother, Mrs. Catherine Crimmins.

George Bernius jr.

Georgc Bernius Jr. of 937 Grove Ave., Laurence Harbor, was born 29 years ago in Orange, where he livcd until moving here in 1946. A veteran of World War II, he was a welder for The New York Times. He leaves his wife, Mrs. Elsie Corback Bernius, and his father, George Bernius, Sr. of Laurence Harbor. The funeral will be from the Frank J. Codey & Sons Funeral Home, 69 High St., Orange.

Clarence W. Holmes

Clarence W. Holmes, 58, of 220 Birchwood Dr., Cliffwood Beach, was a native of Connecticut. He has lived in Cliffwood Beach eight years, coming from Newark. He was employed by the Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Co. in Newark. Mr. Holmes is survived by his wife, Mrs. Florence Holmes, a five-
year-old daughter, Barbara, and two brothers, Charles and Ernest, both of Newark.

George W. Gracie

George W. Gracie, 46, of 112 Morningside Ave., Laurence Harbor, had lived there 18 months and was employed at General Motors Export Division in New York. Born in Newark, he lived in Irvington before moving to Laurence Harbor.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Jean Duncan Gracie; two daughters, Ellen, 5, and Jean, 3; a brother William Gracie of Linden, and three sisters, Mrs Elizabeth Corvan and Mrs. Florence Leu of Irvington, and Mrs. V. Rehm of Detroit.

Leo A. Mullen

Leo A. Mullen of 411 Jefferson Ave., Laurence Harbor was project manager in the technical writing service section of the McGraw Hill Publishing Co., of New York. He was born 28 years ago, in Astoria, L. I., and moved to Laurence Harbor four years ago. A World War II veteran of four years In the Air Force,  Mr. Mullen was a second lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve. He had attended both Yale and Rutgers, majoring in business administration. He leaves his wife, Mrs. Ann Mullen of Springfield Gardens, L. I.; a four-year-old daughter, Kathleen, and two brothers, Joseph of Melrose, L. I., and Raymond of Springfield Gardens.

Mrs. Daniel DenBleyker

Mrs. Irene (Jaeger) DenBleyker of Matawan Rd., Laurence Harbor, was employed by Dieterle & Sleight Inc., Newark, paper box firm. Mrs. DenBleyker usually commuted on the Jersey Central, but because of the strike, took the Pennsylvania Tuesday night.

Mrs DenBleyker was born in Newark and moved to Laurence Harbor in 1933. She was 53. Mrs. DenBleyker was the widow of Daniel DenBleyker, who died in 1940. She lived with her sister, Mrs. Elsie Benner. She also leaves a brother, William Jaeger of Orange.


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