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A deadly train crash

A head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train that was described as "one of the worst wrecks ever experienced by the Seaboard Air Line" happened 100 years ago today in Hamlet NC.

The passenger train was a "colored excursion" from Durham, headed to Charlotte. The freight train, coming from Wilmington, was under the impression that it had the all-clear. The collision happened right in front of the roundhouse. Photo courtesy of the NC State Archives.

The track at this place makes a sharp curve and both sides of the mainline were lined with box and coal cars. The freight train was crawling into the yards under the impression that no train was coming and Engineer Koonce was heading for Hamlet at a good clip, sure also that the track was clear. The two engines lie now beside the track fast to each other in a grasp of death. The wrecking crew have so far been unable to separate them. The crash was heard all over town and the whistles of the round house and the sound of the escaping steam from the contending engines called the whole town to the scene of carnage and death.

Newspaper accounts of the accident include graphic descriptions of the injured, including one passenger who was asleep until he was decapitated. A field hospital was set up under a repair shed to tend to the injured.

The task was great. Sixty people were seriously injured. Twenty-eight more were slightly scratched. Seven were dead, and of the sixty, one died while on the table. Mrs. Landrum, a trained nurse from the Presbyterian hospital, Charlotte, was nursing a case in town and volunteered her services. She gave skilled aid in a very trying position.

Some of the injured were put on another train and taken to the hospital in Charlotte. Because so much of the train had been damaged, uninjured passengers had to remain in Hamlet because there were no cars to transport them.

The excursion was being run by the St. Joseph's Methodist church of Durham, and was scheduled to reach Charlotte at noon and return tonight. The excursionists will return to Durham with heavy hearts and without seeing Charlotte. -- The News & Observer 7/28/1911

The Interstate Commerce Commission investigated the accident  and determined that the dispatcher for the freight train, Mr. Purvis, sent a message that the passenger train had cleared the track. Although the dispatchers for both trains were working in the same room, Mr. Purvis failed to verify this information before sending the message.

NCDOT official honored for rail safety improvements

The non-profit National Association of Railroad Passengers and the family of a South Carolina rail crash victim honored Paul Worley in a Washington ceremony today for his work as engineering and safety director for the NCDOT Rail Division.

Dr. Gary Burch of Fort Gordon, Ga., was one of eight Amtrak passengers killed in a 1991 derailment at Lugoff, S.C.  His family has handed out rail safety awards annually since 1994.  The 2010 Burch Memorial Safety Award went to John Bernal, an Amtrak mechanical foreman in San Antonio.

Worley received a plaque of recognition for work including the Sealed Corridor Initiative, a campaign to close or make safety improvements at railroad-highway crossings across North Carolina.  The Federal Railroad Administration has credited the North Carolina program with reducing car-train crashes and saving lives, and has adopted it as a model for federal high-speed rail plans.

Rail service in Hillsborough?

At its work session tonight, the Orange County Board of Commissioners could establish a Rail Station Development Task Force to recommend potential sites, funding options and additional infrastructure that would support Amtrak service in Hillsborough. The Hillsborough Town Board has already approved the Task Force. A citizens group advocating for the station has suggested the following groups be represented on the Task Force: Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, West End Neighborhood Watch, Hillsborough Town Planning Board, Orange County Economic Development Commission, Orange County Transportation Services Board, Orange Unified Transportation Board and Walkable Hillsborough Coalition. The resolution on tonight's agenda calls for a nine-member Task Force, including two at-large citizens from Hillsborough and Orange County.

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