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LIRR 1890 illustrations of Richmond Hill's Points of Interest /History of Jamaica Avenue
About the Long Island Rail Road's 
Worst Train Crash Researched by Nancy Cataldi

The following article was found here at www.lihistory.com written by Michael Dorman
During a Thanksgiving eve rush in 1950, one train hit another, killing 78 riders in Richmond Hill, NY

1950 Photo of LIRR Crash in Richmond HillAP Photo- Emergency crews and others gather at the scene of the 1950 tragedy; a train that had stopped in Queens was rammed by one bound for Babylon.

It is Thanksgiving eve, 1950, in Manhattan's bustling Penn Station. Dolores Barnes, 30, and her husband, John, 31, meet as they do every night after finishing work -- she as a manicurist, he as a transport company expediter. Right on schedule, they board the 6:09 train for Hempstead. They plan to spend the evening at their Levittown home preparing the next day's turkey dinner with Dolores Barnes' mother, visiting from Havana. 
John Steinheuser, 21, and Bernard Bahn, 31, usually take earlier trains. But both are running late this night, so they catch the first available Hempstead train -- the 6:09. 
Among others meeting at the station are George Brown, 46, a purchasing director from Baldwin, and his 18-year-old son, Stephen, coming home from college for the holiday. They catch the 6:13 train for Babylon. 
When the Hempstead train approaches Jamaica -- passing signal block J in Richmond Hill -- engineer William Murphy reduces speed to 15 mph. Then, for some reason, the air brakes lock. Murphy can't release them. The train rolls to a stop. Murphy tries repeatedly to get it moving again, but it will not budge. The 6:09 is stalled out there in the darkness. 
It is 6:32. The train bound for Babylon, after leaving Penn Station four minutes behind the Hempstead train, now comes barreling down the tracks at about 65 mph. 
Suddenly, with a cataclysmic boom, it slams into the rear of the stalled train -- precipitating the worst train wreck in Long Island history, the worst in New York State history and the worst in the nation since 1943. The shuddering impact sends the front of the onrushing train plunging down the middle of the other train's last car -- cutting it in half lengthwise as if sliced by a giant cleaver and driving it 15 feet into the air. 
In moments, death, destruction and chaos descend on the lonely trackside. Dolores Barnes is dead. John Barnes is dead. George Brown is dead. Stephen Brown is dead. John Steinheuser is dead. Bernard Bahn is dead. Seventy-two others are either dead or dying. Those who survived offered anguished accounts. Harold Rosenberg, 34, was riding in the last car of the Hempstead train. "I saw a terrific red flash and felt a jolt like an atom bomb,'' he told a reporter. He fell to the floor. He was bleeding from the mouth and nose. 
"People were lying all about, screaming in pain,'' Rosenberg said. "Others beat frantically at doors and windows, which were jammed shut. Seconds later, neighbors from across the way arrived at the scene with ladders and jimmied open the doors and started to take out the injured.'' 
Arthur Kearney, 28, a tax analyst, said the crash came seconds after the conductor on the Hempstead train signaled the train was ready to go if Murphy could get it moving. "Just when he gave two short peeps on his whistle, the train from behind hit us,'' Kearney
 said. "It threw me up against the roof. The lights went out. Women started screaming. The chap behind me was either unconscious or dead. I managed to crawl to a broken window on the left side of the train. I looked out and found myself about 15 feet above the ground. In the train under us, all I could see was parts of bodies, arms and legs protruding from the windows. I took a chance and dropped to the tracks below, just between two third rails.'' 
Robert Kopple of Roslyn said, "The front of the train that struck us looked as though it was wearing an overcoat -- the rear car of our train.'' 
Within minutes, fire trucks, ambulances and police cars -- sirens screaming -- raced to the scene. Searchlights were hastily erected. Heavy railroad wrecking equipment was dispatched to pry victims from the twisted remains. When the ambulances proved insufficient, station wagons were pressed into service to carry survivors to hospitals. In some cases, there was not time to reach the hospitals.
Surgeons converted a nearby house into a makeshift operating room -- working under an unshaded light bulb on a kitchen table covered with a sheet. 
Those less seriously injured were wrapped in blankets and placed on stretchers near the tracks. Many lay side by side with the dead. 
Emergency calls went out for blood donations. By midnight, nearly 1,000 donors appeared. 
Days later, six local, state and federal agencies launched investigations. Hearings produced sharp criticism of both railroad policies and the performance of LIRR employees. There was testimony that the railroad -- with government approval -- had abandoned using an automatic safety device that would have cut the Babylon train's speed to 15 mph and reduced the disastrous crash to a slight bump. The Queens district attorney's office at first faulted the stalled train's engineer for failing to order his brakeman to flag down the Babylon train, but a few weeks later blamed the Babylon train's engineer for disregarding a stop-and-proceed signal.
Years later, an LIRR official who was on the stalled train said a flagman had been dispatched. 
In an exhaustive report, the state Public Service Commission ordered sweeping reforms -- among them placing a conductor or brakeman with the engineer in the front car of every electric train and tightening physical requirements. "The consummation of the steps taken by this and other agencies should reduce to a minimum the consequences of human imperfection,'' the commission said. 
That confidence aside, accidents would nonetheless continue to occur on the Long Island Rail Road. But, to date at least, none would be nearly so deadly as the night of horror on that doomed stretch of tracks in Richmond Hill. 

Written by Michael Dorman www.lihistory.com
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