1943 Philadelphia Train Derailment Tragedy

By David N. Thu, May 21, 2015

Last week’s deadly train derailment in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia was eerily similar to a crash that happened at the same junction on Labor Day in 1943.

The 1943 accident involved the sixteen-car Congressional Limited which originated in Washington and was bound for New York. Of the 541 passengers on the Limited—many of whom were military servicemen on leave—79 were killed and 117 injured.

Using Free Library resources we can contextualize this incident. Below are links to the front page and subsequent article and photos that appeared in the Evening Bulletin on September 7, 1943. The fourth is to a plate from G. W. Bromley’s 1925 Atlas of the City of Philadelphia on the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network website. The Free Library owns an original copy.  In rich detail it shows the trackage, businesses, industry, and housing in the area as it existed at the time, well before the Pennsylvania Railroad had electrified that stretch of their network.

Evening Bulletin front page
Evening Bulletin article part 1
Evening Bulletin article part 2
G. W. Bromley’s 1925 Atlas of the City of Philadelphia

Today the Northeast Corridor is one of the most heavily trafficked train routes in the United States, shuttling commuters and tourists alike. In 1943 the Corridor was important to the country’s World War II efforts, serving as an artery for moving goods and serviceman. But with resources and manpower being used overseas, the nation’s railroad infrastructure suffered. With a focus placed on keeping trains moving, insufficient maintenance and safety resulted in an increased number of railway accidents.

Free Library resources, including historic maps, photographs, and newspapers, are crucial in helping us understand the past and make connections to our present world. We encourage you to visit the Parkway Central Library to explore our extensive collections. You can also delve into our many digital collections online, including our map collection and collection of historic images of Philadelphia.”

Sources
Haine, Edgar A. Railroad Wrecks. New York: Cornwall, 1993. 111-112. Print.

Ivory, Karen. Pennsylvania Disasters: True Stories of Tragedy and Survival. Guildford, Conn.: Insiders' Guide, 2007. 87-92. Print.

Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society newsletter the  Lancaster Dispatcher. "September 6, 1943 - The Wreck of the Congressional Limited at Philadelphia , Pa ." LANCASTER DISPATCHER (Sept. 2009): 1-3. Lancaster Chapter, National Railway Historical Society. Web. 15 May 2015.

Evening Bulletin, September 7, 1943
Evening Bulletin, September 7, 1943
Evening Bulletin, September 7, 1943
Evening Bulletin, September 7, 1943
Evening Bulletin, September 7, 1943
Evening Bulletin, September 7, 1943

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