Posts Tagged 'Railroads'

Dangerous Crossing (4-4-1912)

A Chicago railroad was in the news today, and that news was grim.  Twenty people had been injured at a rail crossing on the Southwest Side.  Three of them had died.

Chicago was the rail hub of the nation.  There were hundreds of locations where the tracks crossed city streets.  With all traffic getting heavy, the city council had passed laws requiring the railroads to elevate their tracks.

The Chicago & Alton line ran through the Southwest Side.  In 1911 the city ordered the C&A to build viaducts over the cross streets.  The railroad had delayed, citing poor weather and other excuses.

Flagging a 75th Street car across the Illinois Central tracks, 1908

Flagging a 75th Street car across the Illinois Central tracks, 1908

On this particular morning, Alderman Charles Martin was in a meeting discussing ways of forcing the railroad to act.  Over on Kedzie Avenue, a northbound streetcar approached the C&A crossing near 37th Street and stopped.  The conductor got off to make sure the track was clear.  That was standard procedure.

The conductor watched a four-car C&A freight train pass through the crossing.  Then he signaled his streetcar to moved ahead.  He hadn’t noticed another freight on a parallel track.

Too late, the conductor saw the second train.  He shouted and waved at the motorman of the streetcar.  But the streetcar was already moving through the crossing.

The freight train slammed into the streetcar, toppling it over and crushing it.  Hearing the noise, people rushed to the scene.  The police arrived.  Along with the train crew, they went to work rescuing the passengers from the wreckage.  The injured were taken in carriages to nearby St. Anthony Hospital.

The three people killed were all members of a single family–a 26-year old woman, her infant daughter, and the woman’s adult sister.  The victims were later identified by the woman’s husband.  Ironically, the man was a conductor on another streetcar line.

When word of the accident reached Alderman Martin, he drew up an ordinance ordering all C&A trains to make a full stop before crossing any intersection.  The city council took up the matter the same afternoon.  It passed unanimously.

The C&A Kedzie crossing was later elevated.  So were most of Chicago’s other railroad crossings.  But on the outskirts of the city, many remain at grade.  And in the densely-populated Albany Park neighborhood, the CTA Brown Line still runs on the ground.