New York Train-School Bus Collision of 1972 Part 2

About the New York train-school bus collision in 1972, history of the disaster and information about what happened.


The Disaster: The Penn Central tracks curve before the straightaway approach to the Gilchrest Road crossing. Two long warning blasts, followed by one short and then another long blast, were sounded routinely. Headed downhill on Gilchrest Road, the yellow school bus could be plainly seen from the cab window of the diesel engine. There was plenty of open space before the crossing and so 2653 thundered onward. On the side of the tracks opposite the approaching school bus, William Muccio had stopped his garbage truck to await the train's passing. He could see that the bus was not slowing down. Transfixed, he watched the distance narrow between the train and the bus. In desperation he sounded his horn. It blended with another long blast from the diesel.

From the engine cab, the engineer, brakeman, and fireman watched the yellow bus hold its speed on a collision course. The engineer hit the air brakes praying they would stop his 4,000-ton juggernaut. Inside the bus, window-seat passengers pressed their fear-ridden faces against the glass, too frightened even to cry out.

The front diesel rammed the school bus just behind its center, tearing it in 2, tossing the back half upside down off the tracks. Seats, bodies, books, and papers flew in every direction. The front half wrapped itself around the front of the engine to be pushed 1,000' down the tracks. From the kitchen window of their home, a few hundred feet from the crossing, John, Joan, and Eileen Fitzgerald saw it happen. The only words spoken were John's. He kept repeating: "My God, the bus didn't stop! The bus didn't stop."

Aftermath: An hour and 20 minutes after the tragedy 45 children and one adult were in the hospital. By noon there had been 300 X rays, 25 blood transfusions, and 17 major surgical operations. Two of those treated didn't recover. In one year, 1971, there were 906 school bus accidents in New York State alone, with 8 deaths and 402 injuries. Nationally, there were 47,000 accidents accounting for 170 deaths and 5,600 injuries. That same year, 290,000 school buses moved 20 million students per day, and each year the total increases by 500,000.

Tomorrow: By the year 2052 New York State will have warning signals at all railroad crossings. It is hoped, especially by parents, that long before that date school buses will be built 100% safer than at present, and that job-orientation and training courses will be mandatory for every school bus driver. Only well-qualified, well-paid, full-time drivers should be entrusted with the transportation of our most valuable national asset, our children.

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