Philadelphia Train Wreck of 1943

Philadelphia Train Wreck of 1943 World War II Disasters

In nearly the same place as Philadelphia's May 2015 derailment, another train wreck killed 79 and injured 117 of 541 passengers traveling aboard the Pennsylvania Railroad's Congressional Limited  train.

That disaster occurred on September 6, 1943—Labor Day—when people, including military personnel, were traveling aboard one of then-fastest electric trains in the world. Among the dead and injured were servicemen, home on leave during World War II.

The accident happened when the Limited  jumped the rails at Frankford Junction. In this image, we see a scene from the aftermath when rail coaches became a tangled mass of wreckage.

Investigators found that overheating, in a wheel bearing on car number 7, caused a fire. That, in turn, caused an axle to snap in half, catapulting the front of car 7 (with its more-than-fifty passengers) into the air, leading to an eight-car derailment, just before a curve.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the disaster:

The seventh car, a coach, left the rails, shot directly up into the air, tearing down every electric wire along the right of way, and came down like a split melon, its forward part crashing into the signal tower alongside, knocking the tower partly from its base. (Quoted by Karen Ivory in Pennsylvania Disasters: True Stories of Tragedy and Survival, at page 89.)

Cars 7 (which wrapped itself around the signal tower) and 8 (which hit the signal tower) were destroyed while six additional cars were strewn across the tracks. The passengers who died were traveling in cars 7 and 8.

Servicemen, who were traveling aboard the train and wounded by the accident themselves, helped the injured passengers, greatly aiding the rescue efforts. Kos Semonski, in the neighborhood when he heard a loud crash, wrote about what he saw for the Inquirer:

Cut and bleeding themselves, these men of our Nation’s armed forces pitched in and worked, brushing aside offers of first aid from doctors and nurses who arrived on the scene within a few minutes. They climbed in through car windows, freed passengers pinned under crushed seats and handed them out the windows to police.

...Time and again I saw them refuse assistance when it seemed as if they had lost so much blood they must “fold up.” (Quoted by Ivory, at page 92.)

The 1943 accident occurred about one mile from the 2015 derailment.

In this AP photograph, taken on the 7th of September, 1943, we see the wreck scene on the day after the derailment. Helpers are still trying to rescue the living and recover the dead.

The rail coach, depicted here, was cut lengthwise by the force of the crash. A heavier section is on the right side of the picture; a twisted part of the coach, with its seats still visible, is on the left.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: May 16, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

Media Credits

AP image.


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"Philadelphia Train Wreck of 1943" AwesomeStories.com. May 16, 2015. May 30, 2020.
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