Remembering the Great East Thompson Train Wreck

Remembering the Great East Thompson Train Wreck

In July 2013, an Alvia high-speed train travelling from Madrid to Ferrol derailed and crashed near to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

The incident claimed the lives of 79 people, injuring 139 more and sent shockwaves across the world. In the 21st century, all modes of public transport are designed to be safer than ever, none more so than train travel. The advancements in technology have ensured that stepping onto a train has become so routine and accidents are minimal.

This is why the Spanish crash was such a shock to the general public who were baffled as to why a train, complete with experienced drivers, could somehow crash and leave tens of people dead. Thankfully these occurrences are few and far between nowadays but in the early days of train travel, unfortunately accidents happened more often.

In the winter of 1891, four trains collided in East Thompson, Connecticut claiming the lives of three people. What was named the Great East Thompson Train Wreck became one of the most extensive train crashes in US history.

The people of East Thompson awoke on the morning of December 4th, 1891 to a foggy scene. It was typical for this part of the US to be blanketed in this morning dew. The day was only a mere six hours old when this sleepy part of Connecticut became the scene of something that would forever be remembered in US transport history.

Nearby Putnam, Connecticut was a major station for the New York and New England Railroad (NY & NE RR). In the early hours of the day, the Long Island and Eastern States Express arrived from Hartford and requested to change engines for the remainder of its journey to Boston, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, the Norwich Steamboat Express passenger train, with 75 on board, and the Express Freight #212 with 11 cars were also bound for Boston. It left the Putnam dispatcher with three trains to organise heading to Boston.

The Long Island and Eastern States Express was told to go on eastbound track #2 once the new engine was ready while the passenger train would take the westbound track #1 to East Douglas, Massachusetts. The freight train would follow the Long Island and Eastern States Express. There was one problem though – the dispatcher had failed to remember the local Southbridge Freight sitting on the tracks in East Thompson, Connecticut.

Moments later the Southbridge Freight was hit head on by the Express Freight #212 causing the former to burst into flames. This was not the end of the drama as the Long Island and Eastern States Express came hurtling into the melee killing an engineer, however quick-thinking conductor Frank Jennison was able to prevent more lives being lost by turning off the valves for the gas lighting.

A flagman attempted to tell the Norwich Steamboat Express train to stop but it was too late and that locomotive ploughed into the wreck. Amazingly enough only three people lost their lives in this incredible crash.

However, with 500 feet of burnt out, twisted wreckage and debris now strung across the tracks it became one of the most memorable train crashes in US railroad history.