There is a lot of history contained in the train tracks leading in and out of Chicago. While our railroad system helped grow the city and surrounding suburbs, there were also many notable train accidents that caused regulators to push for new safety policies and procedures.
Last Friday was the 67th anniversary of a train accident that is now largely unknown to people living in the Chicago area. On April 26, 1946, two trains collided in Naperville, killing 47 people and injuring 125 more.
On the day of the crash, two passenger trains left Union Station at the exact same time; both carrying passengers and both heading west. Eventually, the two trains would merge onto the same track, with the second train traveling about two minutes behind the first.
The “Advance Flyer” was the lead train. Shortly after leaving the station, the engineer of the Advance Flyer saw something shoot out from underneath the train. It could have been a rock, a piece of metal or something even less dangerous. Nonetheless, he made an immediate and unscheduled stop.
Meanwhile, the “Exposition Flyer” was traveling at relatively high speed just a couple minutes behind the first train. Efforts to warn the Exposition Flyer’s engineer failed, and the two trains collided just 90 seconds after the Advance Flyer had rolled to a stop.
After the accident, the Chicago Tribune reported that “the scene of the disaster was one of twisted and gnarled confusion, with huge luxury passenger coaches strewn across torn tracks like abandoned toy trains.” Despite immediate help from first responders in the area, it took 27 hours just to clear one of the three side-by-side railroad tracks. The entirety of the rubble took three days to remove.
Investigators were never able to figure out who exactly was to blame. Nonetheless, this devastating train accident led to some regulation changes and practices; some of which are in place to this day.
Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have a lot of great history; but it is important that we take time to remember the transportation tragedies as well. As the old saying goes, those who don’t learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them.
Source: ChicagoMag.com, “This Is the 67th Anniversary of the Horrible Naperville Train Crash You’ve Never Heard Of,” Adam Doster, Apr. 26, 2013