Kew Gardens train crash

The Kew Gardens train crash (also known as the Richmond Hill train crash) was a collision between two trains on the Long Island Rail Road's Main Line, which occurred during the evening rush hour of November 22, 1950. The trains collided between Kew Gardens and Jamaica stations in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York City, killing 78 people and injuring 363. The crash is the worst railway accident in LIRR history, and one of the worst in the history of New York State.[1]

Kew Gardens train crash
DateNovember 22, 1950
6:29 pm
LocationKew Gardens, Queens, New York City
Coordinates40°42′17″N 73°49′33″W / 40.70472°N 73.82583°W / 40.70472; -73.82583Coordinates: 40°42′17″N 73°49′33″W / 40.70472°N 73.82583°W / 40.70472; -73.82583
CountryUnited States
LineMain Line (LIRR)
OperatorLong Island Rail Road
Incident typeCollision
CauseSignal passed at danger


An eastbound Hempstead-bound train consisting of 12 cars and carrying about 1,000 passengers left Pennsylvania Station at 6:09 p.m.[2][3] Its first stop was to be Jamaica station, but as it passed the Kew Gardens station, the train's engineer applied the air brakes to reduce speed to 15 miles per hour (24 km/h) in response to a "Go slow" signal. However, once engaged, the brakes would not release, and the train halted.[2][4] While the engineer investigated the problem, the brakeman, traveling in the rear car, got out and held a red lantern to warn any train following, as per the regulations. He then heard the traction motors power; believing that the brakes were now working and that the train was about to depart, he turned off the lantern and re-boarded the rear car. However, he had not received a signal by the train's whistle to return to the train. The brakes were still locked on and the Hempstead-bound train remained where it was, in the dark, without any protection from the rear.[5][6]

Four minutes after the Hempstead train departed Penn Station, a train bound for Babylon station carrying 1,200 passengers departed Penn Station on the same track. When the Babylon train came around the bend some 4,600 feet (1,400 m) behind the Hempstead train,[2][3] it slowed to 15 mph (24 km/h) in response to a "Go Slow" signal indicating congestion ahead. The engineer then saw the next signal beyond the stopped train, which showed "All Clear"; thinking that this applied to him he accelerated to 35 mph (56 km/h).[2][6]


Meanwhile, the brakeman on the Hempstead train signaled to his engineer that he was back aboard and the train could proceed, but he did not receive any response; he signaled again but the train stayed where it was. He prepared to get back onto the track when the Babylon train hit. Before he was killed the Babylon train's engineer applied the emergency brake but it was still travelling at 30 mph (48 km/h) when it collided with the stationary train. Neither train derailed; the impact pushed the stationary train forward 75 feet (23 m) and split its last car lengthwise as the front car of the Babylon train telescoped into it, shearing off the superstructure above the floor and driving the roof 15 feet (4.6 m) into the air.[5][2]

In the ensuing collision, 78 people were killed (including everyone aboard the last car of the Hempstead train, who were crushed by the impact of the Babylon train) and 363 were injured. One witness described the dead as "packed like sardines in their own blood".[5] A survivor recounted: "All I could see was parts of bodies, arms and legs protruding from the windows".[1] Many of those who survived the impact were trapped in the darkness, unable to move in the pileup of dead bodies, amidst the screams and wails of the dying.[7]


In the aftermath of the crash, all of the police detectives on duty in Queens were summoned to the site, as were 200 physicians coming from every hospital in the borough. Police and fire personnel cut through the wreckage with torches, and used ladders to allow doctors and nurses to provide medical aid for those trapped inside.[3] Emergency responders were also summoned from other boroughs.[8] It was more than five hours before the last people still alive were removed from the wreckage.[7]


A four-way investigation was quickly convened after the Kew Gardens collision.[9] The official cause of the crash was determined to be the disregard of the "Go Slow" signal by the Babylon train's engineer, who died in the crash. He had instead reacted to the "All Clear" signal half a mile ahead. The brakeman of the Hempstead train was also criticized for leaving his train unprotected during the critical moments.[10]

The accident happened only nine months after another crash involving LIRR trains at Rockville Centre killed 32 people.[11] The LIRR had suffered from years of underinvestment, as the cars involved in this crash were built during 1910 and their ages were typical of the fleet's as a whole. The company had been prevented from increasing fares between 1918 and 1947 by the New York Public Service Commission, despite increased operating costs. At the time of the accident, the LIRR had already filed for bankruptcy reorganization.[5]

In an investigative report published in response to the crash, the Public Service Commission found that fatigue and a lack of proper crew procedures were elements in both the Rockville Centre and Kew Gardens crashes. The commission suggested six improvements that could be made to the LIRR, including signal improvements and automatic train control.[10] After the crash, the LIRR began a $6 million program to install Automatic Speed Control (ASC) on its tracks.[12] The first segment of ASC went into service in May 1951.[13] The Pennsylvania Railroad (the then-owner of the LIRR) terminated the bankruptcy and began a 12-year improvement program at a cost of $58 million. The LIRR was exempted from much of its tax burden and gained freedom to charge realistic fares.[5] Ultimately, the LIRR became reorganized as part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which was formed to manage the LIRR and still operates it.[14]


  1. ^ a b Doyle, Dennis. "Long Island Rail Road's Worst Train Crash- The Richmond Hill Historical Society". Richmond Hill Historical Society. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e The New York Times (November 23, 1950). "CARS TELESCOPED; Scenes at Fatal Long Island Rail Road Train Crash in Richmond Hill". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Schlegel, Harry (November 23, 1950). "75 Die in L.I. train crash". New York Daily News. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  4. ^ "LIRR Wrecks". Long Island Rail Road Photos, Maps, and History. July 10, 1909. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e "A Picture History of Kew Gardens, NY". The 1950 LIRR Crash at Kew Gardens/Richmond Hill. November 22, 1950. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Marka, B. John; United Press (November 24, 1950). "The 1950 Richmond Hill /Kew Gardens Long Island Railroad Train Wreck". A Picture History of Kew Gardens, NY. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  8. ^ "ALL BOROUGHS SEND AID TO CRASH SCENE; Police and Fire Rescue Squads Called From Throughout City to Aid Injured". The New York Times. November 23, 1950. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  9. ^ Parke, Richard H. (November 24, 1950). "4-WAY INVESTIGATION STARTS INTO LONG ISLAND RAIL WRECK; TOLL NOW 77 DEAD, 153 INJURED; SURVIVORS RECEIVING AID AND TWO HEROES OF TRAGEDY". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  10. ^ a b "P.S.C.'s Recommendations Concerning the Long Island Rail Road; Facts Bearing Upon Safety of Operation in General". The New York Times. January 5, 1951. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  11. ^ "Past LIRR accidents through the years". Newsday. June 14, 2017. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  12. ^ Feinberg, Alexander (December 27, 1950). "$6,000,000 Safety Program Set by Long Island Rail Road; L. I. ROAD TO SPEND MILLIONS ON SAFETY". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  13. ^ "NEW SAFETY DEVICE FOR LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD". The New York Times. May 25, 1951. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  14. ^ Furfaro, Danielle; Italiano, Laura (September 19, 2017). "This horrific, deadly train wreck sparked the creation of the MTA". New York Post. Retrieved September 18, 2018.

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