Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn in 1918’

A deadly subway wreck inside a Brooklyn tunnel

January 2, 2012

The Malbone Street Wreck—a derailment on the BRT Brighton Beach line in November 1918 that killed 97 people—still stands as the city’s most lethal transit accident.

Looking back, conditions were ripe for disaster.

Among the contributing factors was a motorman strike, forcing the BRT to find a substitute to operate the train. An ill-trained dispatcher took the controls.

Speed also played a role. The five-car train negotiated the tricky S curve at the downhill approach of the tunnel, just before the Prospect Park station, at 30 miles per hour.

The top speed was supposed to be six miles per hour.

As a result, the train met its tragic end.

At about 6:45 p.m., beneath the intersection of Flatbush Avenue, Ocean Avenue, and Malbone Street, the first car derailed.

“The second car slammed violently into a concrete abutment, losing its roof and one of its sides in the impact. The third car disintegrated into a tangled mass of wood and glass,” explains PBS’s American Experience.

“Dozens of passengers died immediately, many of them decapitated or impaled by shards of wood and glass. Others were electrocuted by the third rail, which had shut down on derailment but was turned back on by offsite monitors who attributed the shutdown to labor sabotage.”

The grisly crash made headlines for months; the motorman and other BRT bigwigs were charged with manslaughter. In the end, none were found guilty.

Malbone Street itself was a casualty. The road was so associated with disaster, its name was changed to Empire Boulevard.

Today, only a one-block stretch of old Malbone Street still exists.

Map courtesy of PBS’s American Experience, which has a fascinating writeup about the wreck.

“Flatbush Avenue and Nevins Street,” 1918

December 5, 2011

Early 20th century Brooklyn offered lots of ways to get around: elevated trains, trolley cars, and automobiles, as this postcard, stamped 1918, shows.

Is this another view of the same intersection circa 1925? It’s from the Brooklyn Historical Society’s wonderful blog.