The vast majority of New Yorkers do not realize that November 1 is the anniversary of the deadliest subway crash in New York City history. On this day in 1918, a BRT train running along the Brighton Line took a steep curve at over 30 miles per hour and slammed into the walls. At least 93 people died in that accident, and the reverberations were immediate. While the BRT changed its operating practices, the city renamed Malbone St. to Empire Boulevard since so many families in Brooklyn felt the impact of the collision. What follows is the post I ran on Nov. 1, 2008, the 90th anniversary of the accident.
“Scores Killed or Maimed in Brighton Tunnel Wreck,” screamed the Page One story in The Times on Saturday, November 2, 1918. The night before, a speeding train crashed coming around a sharp curve in the Malbone St. tunnel on the Brighton Line. Over 90 people died, and the accident remains the single deadliest crash in New York City transit history.
For weeks and months afterwards, the Malbone St. crash dominated the news, and the details are rather gruesome:
A Brighton Beach Train of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, made up of five wooden cars of the oldest type in use, which was speeding with a rush hour crowd to make up lost time on its way from Park Row to Coney Island, jumped the track shortly before 7 o’clock last evening on a sharp curve approaching the tunnel at Malbone Street, in Brooklyn, and plunged into a concrete partition between the north and south bound tracks…
The first car left the rails a few feet in front of the opening of the tunnel and rammed one end of a concrete partition separating the northbound from the southbound tracks. It was thrown at right angles across the roadbed in front of the entrance to the tunnel. The other cars cut right through it, the second car smashing it to bits and the whole train passing over the wreckage and coming to a stop 200 feet down the tracks inside the tunnel.
Packed together as in a box without structural strength to give them any protection, the passengers in the first car were crushed and cut to pieces. Not one is believed to have escaped. After breaking through the first car, the rest of the train dashed it against the partition wall and strewed wreckage and passengers along the tracks ahead, where the wheels of the cars following passed over them. Only splintered fragments of wood and broken and twisted bits of iron and steel remained of the first car.
The second and third cars, leaving the rails after their impact with the first, ran sidewise into a series of iron pillars supporting the roof of the tunnel at intervals beside the partition. The pillars cut great gashes in the sides of the cars, which were still traveling at high speed, and mowed down the passengers who were standing striking the heads of some from their bodies.
The left sides of the second and third cars were stripped away. Scores of men, women, and children were flung by the impact out of these cars against pillars and the concrete wall, where they were killed instantly or ground under the wheels after falling back upon the tracks. Some who were not flung from the car were killed inside when they fell upon the broken iron of seats, splintered timbers and iron beams which projected through the shattered bottoms of the car. Passengers on the platforms were nearly all killed instantly. One dead man was found impaled on a broken bar of iron, which had run underneath the car, but which broke and shot up into the air like a javelin in the crash.
Furthermore, the impact on the B.R.T. company and the concurrent motorman strike was immediate. Police arrested B.R.T. officials, and the motorman strike ended a few hours later. Over the next few months, Brooklyn grappled with this horrendous accident. At one point, nearly everyone in Brooklyn knew someone impacted by the crash, and in the aftermath, the city changed the name of Malbone St. to Empire Boulevard. The connection between the crash and the name of the street would forever scar the victims’ friends, neighbors and family.
Today, what is rather remarkable about the famed Malbone St. crash is how it has largely been lost to time. The BMT Brighton Line now runs a slightly different route, and the extremely sharp curve is now a part of the Franklin Ave. Shuttle tracks. The tunnel and tracks themselves are rarely used, and the accident is rarely mentioned in the history of the city.
Over the weekend, Flatbush Gardener memorialized the accident by remembering every single victim. It is a fitting tribute to one the city’s most tragic events.
For the full text of The Times article, click here.