Fatal Amtrak Crash Took Place Near Site of 1943 Philadelphia Rail Disaster

A train crash sparked chaos in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia Tuesday night, but seven decades prior, an even deadlier one took place nearby in what’s known as Frankford Junction.

The Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 crash Tuesday night claimed the lives of at least five people and injured at minimum 50 more. Officials don’t yet know what caused the Amtrak train to partially hop the tracks, lifting up and bending rail along the way.

But decades earlier an even bigger catastrophe took place.

On September 6, 1943, 79 people were killed and 116 wounded in the Congressional Limited crash, one of the deadliest rail accidents in U.S. history. At the time, the train was the fastest on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Like the Amtrak train, the Congressional Limited was traveling from D.C. to New York, a popular commute along the Northeast corridor, both back then and now. It crashed near Kensington Avenue and Pacific Street, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, less than a mile from the Amtrak train’s accident site in the 2200 block of Westsheaf Lane. The tracks along Frankford Junction follow a large bend.

The Limited had nearly double the amount of passengers as Amtrak 188, 541 in total. At the time, the Limited disaster was the worst train crash in the U.S.. The accident occurred on a busy Labor Day weekend with many families and furloughed military servicemen aboard.

“I never heard such crying and screaming before,” Norman Ebinger, an air raid warden, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time. “The panic was terrible. The screams of the injured and dying cut right through me.”

The Limited crashed after one of the train’s journal boxes, which house axles, overheated. Fire and smoke could be seen flaring out of a journal box on one of the train cars, according to the Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. After it stopped working, a front axle cracked and the train’s seventh car flung upward. A domino effect followed with other train cars rolling over. Passengers flew out of windows. Two of the train’s 16 cars—No. 7 and No. 8— were demolished as six cars were derailed in total, according to a historical Associated Press article.

“Ambulances stood bumper-to-bumper,” stretchers in abundance and along with the hundreds of emergency responders, dozens of priests were on site to read last rites to the dying, according to The Inquirer. A similar scene unfolded after the Amtrak crash, but instead of priests, only emergency personnel and National Transportation Safety Board investigators working through the wreckage.

The Limited could reach up to 80 miles per hour, a remarkable speed for the time. It’s unclear how fast the Amtrak train was going when it came to a devastating halt Tuesday night.