New York Train-School Bus Collision of 1972 Part 1

About the New York train-school bus collision in 1972, history of the disaster and the cause.


Loaded beyond capacity, school bus number 596 detoured downhill on Gilchrest Road, in Nyack, N.Y. At the bottom it would cross the Penn Central tracks. A few minutes out of Congers, train number 2653 with 73 loaded freight cars was also heading for Gilchrest Road. Fifteen hundred feet before the crossing, the required warning blasts sounded from the diesel's air horns. The school bus maintained its speed. There was a 2nd warning blast from the train, then engineer Carpenter applied the air brakes, locking the train's wheels, but the 4,000-ton freight didn't respond. Seconds later there was a sickening crash.

When: At 7:55 A.M. on March 24, 1972.

Where: Just out of Valley Cottage near Congers, N.Y.

The Loss: Three students were killed out-right and of the 46 hospital-treated victims, 2 more died. The bus had cost $8,000.

The Cause: Gilchrest Road crossing, like 2,400 others in New York State, had no gate, watchman, bell system, or flashing lights. Trees bordered Gilchrest Road right up to the crossing and though the part-time bus driver, 35-year-old Joseph Larkin, had driven this alternate route for a week, there had been no trains.

Despite the tremendous responsibility, school bus drivers are underpaid. No particular training is required, other than to pass a driving test. Because of low salary, the turnover in bus drivers is high. It invites those who are out of work temporarily, moonlighters, housewives who need part-time employment, and retirees. All of these people are probably good neighbors and excellent drivers, but they are not necessarily suited for a job that, at best, is a frustrating, nerve-racking experience.

The morning of the disaster was a normal spring day. The weather was clear and the bus had been checked for possible mechanical malfunctions. Train number 2653 was traveling at 25 mph and had sounded all required warnings. The collision shouldn't have happened, but it did.

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