Sunday, September 30, 2018

NYC/LS&MS Ashtabula River Bridge Disaster

Roy Kessmann posted four photos with the comment:
Ashtabula, Ohio Bridge disaster 1876
The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway designed a bridge to cross the Ashtabula Creek in 1865.The Chief Engineer reviewed the design and declared it unsafe. The CEO of the railroad said to build it anyway. The bridge design was based upon wooden structures in use at the time but wrought iron was used for the structural members instead. No one really knew the strength of wrought iron at the time for a given thickness. The bridge was a two track affair having a height of 70 feet over the creek. In a freezing, howling blizzard on Friday, December 28, 1876 train #5, the Pacific Express approached the bridge Westbound being pulled by two engines: The Socrates and the Columbia. Four helper engines were used in getting the 11 car train through the snow drifts on its way from Buffalo. In the process of crossing the bridge it failed due to metal fatigue. The first engine made it across but the rest of the train fell into the gorge. The wreck caught on fire from the non compliant stoves that were used in the coaches. The railroad had a policy that wrecks that caught on fire would be left to burn themselves out in complete disregard for the passengers. The town of Ashtabula brought a steam pumper as well as a paddle pumper to the sight. However, the Chief, an alcoholic, never gave the order to pump water. So a volunteer organization went to help save the passengers. A few were pulled out of the wreck safely. However, most succumbed to fire or injuries suffered from wreckage trapping them. It is not known exactly how many souls were lost. But estimates range up to 200. What is disgusting is that thieves combed the wreck sight to take valuables from the dead and the living. It was thought that the Chief Engineer of the railroad committed suicide. But the coroners report was not opened until 1890 and disclosed that the individual was murdered. The bridge designer committed suicide 7 years after the wreck.
[Some bridges were tested by stringing a bunch of locomotives across the entire length. Maybe they knew this one would not handle that.]

Wreckage in Ashtabula creek. One engine, bridge structure, railcars, and humans.

Fire breaks out from non compliant stoves in railcars.

Bridge abutments after fire burns out.

Bridge Hunter has several more photos including the wood replacement that burned in 1895 and a replacement "fishbelly" deck truss.

Trains Magazine posted
Of all the railroad disasters of the 19th century, perhaps none was as notorious as Dec. 29, 1876, when Lake Shore & Michigan Southern's Pacific Express plunged through a flimsy Howe truss bridge at Ashtabula, Ohio. A new documentary explores the tragedy, with the assistance of the Age of Steam Roundhouse museum. Kevin Keefe writes about Ashtabula in this week's Mileposts blog: 

Trains Magazine
"An 1876 newspaper illustration captures the moment when the Pacific Express fell into Ashtabula Creek."
[The Trains article is about a 2-hour PBS documentary that airs 8pm EST on Dec 29, 2022, the 146th anniversary of the tragedy.]

The trailer for the PBS show
There are several more clips here.

The current bridge is obviously on a route that avoids crossing a gorge.
Shane Simmons Flickr via BridgeHunter-1904, License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike (CC BY-SA)

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