Amtrak Crash: Site of Train Derailment Isn't New to Railway Tragedy

PHOTO: A Pennsylvania Railroad train crashed at Frankford Junction in northeast Philadelphia, Sept. 6, 1943.PlayRalph Morse/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
WATCH Witnesses Describe Moment of Impact When Amtrak Train Crashed Near Philadelphia

The site of Tuesday’s Amtrak train derailment isn’t new to railway tragedy.

On Sept. 6, 1943, a Pennsylvania Railroad train crashed at Frankford Junction in northeast Philadelphia, killing 79 people and injuring 117 others.

The 541 passengers on board the Congressional Limited train that day had been traveling for Labor Day weekend. Service members were on board.

As the train traveled between Washington, D.C., and New York City, an overhead journal box overheated, causing one of the wheel axles to fail. Smoke and flames could be seen underneath the seventh car, but before workers could stop the train, the car jumped the tracks, resulting in death and devastation.

“The coach, hurtled into a steel pole supporting overhead power lines, was cut in two vertically as though by a giant axe,” The Associated Press wrote. “The coach behind jammed accordion-like against it. Six other cars behind them were thrown from the rails, but all the dead and most of the injured were in the seventh and eighth cars.”

Workers spent days clearing the wreckage, using acetylene torches to cut open the wrecked cars, trying to rescue as many people as possible.

Witnesses watched in horror as the victims were pulled from the wreckage.

“I never heard such crying and screaming before,” air raid warden Norman Ebinger said at the time. “We heard the crash and rushed up with our first aid equipment. There were at least 50 people strewn all over the tracks, many of them with their arms and legs broken.

“The panic was terrible. The screams of the injured and dying cut right through me.”

More than 70 years later and the area was again the focus of sadness and shock, a train derailed and passengers in harm's way.

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