A chilling tale of two train wrecks
A Scary Tale of Two Train Wrecks: Around All Saints’ Day, it’s traditional to subject us to dark, scary stories meant to scare us in the dark and fear those things that bump into each other in the night. The vast majority of these stories are pure fiction which, when unpacked, reveals nothing more than a creative storytelling adventure at our expense. Arguably, however, true stories, those that actually happened, are the scariest of all. You be the judge as we experience two scary train wrecks.
Suddenly he felt his own car swerve off the tracks, then boom, boom, boom along the wooden sleepers on the out-of-control bridge. Death in all its possible violent agony has begun.
the enormous [train] quivered and swayed and swayed as steel rumbled over rocks and ties. For a split second, there was a terrifying rumble like a distant earthquake as high-speed coaches leaped furiously from the rails. There followed a terrifying roar, as if a thousand freight trains had collided. Echoing over the flat, silent desert, the roar morphed into shrill, splintering, sharp sounds of cracking steel, as if an evil giant clutched the train with his mighty hands. Accompanying that sickening squeal of steel hitting metal and rock, the tracks being ripped from their sleepers, the metal sides of cars made of the strongest steel being torn, bent and crushed, were the sounds of people trapped in the terror. Death could not have chosen a better place to strike. Uncontrollable, the [train’s] the middle cars broke their connections to the engines and crashed into the old iron bridge. Cars collide into each other, steel crashes and cracks. A restaurant car full of passengers late for dinner and retired waiters and cooks was launched like a toy replica into the air and landed in a jagged, twisted heap in the river, followed by a car -bar that stings; two more cars followed, rushing against the heavy steel beams of the bridge, while other cars simply rolled over. The heavy, rusty beams of the bridge swayed, then snapped and tumbled like so much cheap tin into the stream below. Five other cars loaded with terrified and panicked men and women rolled over. The beams of the bridge jutted out at every possible angle, like so many matches. In the scrap heap of crushed hulls, the once beautiful [train] lay in the throes of an agonizing death.
August 12, 1939 —
For its time, the City of San Francisco could easily be called the most luxurious streamlined passenger train in the West, if not the whole country. The Union Pacific, South Pacific, and Chicago and Northwest, who operated the speedster from Chicago to Oakland paid $2 million to have it built ($19.1 million in 2022). Plush Kelly green seats designed for a comfortable ride. Polaroid provided a special tinting material for the windows to reduce glare. The EMD E2 ABB locomotive set developed 5,400 hp, allowing the City of San Francisco to cross its course to the west in 45 hours and 45 minutes. That’s 19 hours better than previous ratings. Beyond the base ticket price and Pullman fee, there was an “extra” fare associated with driving this luxury streamline – $5 for the chair car, $15 in the open Pullman and 22 sections, $50 in a roomette.
Leaving Carlin, Nevada, the City of San Francisco was 30 minutes late. Veteran engineer Ed Hecox knew Nevada’s next long empty stretch would be ideal for making up for lost time. He opened the throttle, pushing the train up to 90 mph.
It was 9:33 p.m. when Hecox spotted a large tumbleweed resting on a rail near Bridge No. 4 over the Humbolt River. It was unusual and he looked at the weed as the train approached. Upon hitting the tumbleweed, Hecox reported that there was a significant shock felt in the cabin. He braked, but it was too late. The City of San Francisco was going off the rails. The locomotives slid forward off the rails. Five wagons uncoupled and plunged into the river bed below the bridge. At that instant, 24 passengers were killed and nearly all 170 people on board were injured.
The derailment site was deserted. It took hours for first responders to arrive and for daylight to break the next morning before a rescue train reached the site. On board the rescue train were special agents from the South Pacific and the FBI. Although the area around the wreckage was completely disturbed, it was quickly determined that the City of San Francisco had been sabotaged.
Just before Bridge No. 4, a 30-foot section of rail had been weathered. The assailant(s) raised the spikes of this piece of rail so that it could be driven about 5 inches inward. The tumbleweed served as a disguise. Additionally, dark brown paint had been applied to the area, further masking the vandalism. A fast moving train hitting such a gap would surely derail catastrophically.
According to Dan O’Connell, Chief Special Agent for the South Pacific, a sabotage of this nature at this location would have required 90 pounds of tools. Tools had to be hauled from the highway over a mile away. The work would have lasted several hours. Incidentally, there was a 4-hour train-free window on deck 4 before the City of San Francisco who passed.
During the insurance investigation, O’Connell became obsessed with solving the case. As part of the lead follow-up, the various investigative agencies interviewed more than 93,000 people.
October 9, 1995 —
Around 1:35 a.m., Amtrak New Orleans to Los Angeles Limited sunset was traveling through a dark, remote desert 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. As the train rounded a curve towards the bridge over Quail Springs Wash, passengers were awakened by the horrific squeal of brakes. Then there was an incredible scream of metal on metal as the train derailed and the Superliner cars plunged 30 feet into the dry wash below deck. The lights went out and the only sounds were the moans and screams of 258 passengers. Both locomotives and eight of the 12 cars were off the track. The second, third and fourth cars rolled sideways off the bridge. Car number five on the train jackknifed, rolling down the embankment into the washhouse below.
The derailment took place miles from the nearest road. When the call for help arrived, first responders rushed to the scene in all types of vehicles on numerous routes. They found nearly 100 passengers injured, 12 in serious condition and one dead – Mitchell Bates, an Amtrak sleeping car attendant.
During rescue efforts, a passenger, Neal Hallford, noticed a piece of paper under a rock near the train. The note was an anti-government manifesto from a group identifying themselves as the Sons of the Gestapo. The derailment was not an accident. The Limited sunset was sabotaged.
As the FBI investigation ramping up, it was found that in the curve leading to the bridge, 29 spikes had been removed from one of the rails. The rail was then pushed inboard 4 inches. Additionally, wires had been connected between the rails so that the signaling would not detect the broken rail.
The perpetrator(s) had to bring heavy tools a long distance off-road to vandalize the track. The FBI was looking for someone who knew how the railroad system worked. From the start, however, the investigation was hampered. Any evidence of criminal travel to or from the scene was obliterated by the onslaught of rescue vehicles which arrived in the early hours of the morning.
The frightening conclusions
The above passage describing the train wreck could easily apply to either the City of San Francisco or the Limited sunset. It is taken from the book tragic train by Don DeNevi. tragic train is an in-depth look at City of San Francisco destroy.
The scary part, however, is that the two City of San Francisco and the Limited sunset were sabotaged in exactly the same way, albeit 56 years apart. The other important fact common to both incidents is that to date, neither case has been resolved. No one has been brought to justice for either wreckage.
At the start of World War II, the South Pacific reduced its active investigation of the City of San Francisco sabotage. In the case of Limited Sunset, the FBI case is still open with a $310,000 reward leading to an arrest and conviction.
The truth can be far scarier than any fictional tale.