The Great Train Wreck of 1856

By | Jul 17, 2013

It was 1856, the railroad was still in its infancy and many of the runs between towns were on single tracks. The St. Michael’s R.C. Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sunday School, with as many as 1500 people, were on their way to a picnic at Fort Washington on that early Thursday summer morning of July 17th.

They left the station 23 minutes late. Even though the Engineer knew that another train was on the tracks coming towards them, he continued on his way. He was sure that they would meet and pass each other at Edge Hill Siding.

The engineer of the train approaching what was known as a blind curve near Camp Hill slowed and blew his whistle. The other train was traveling at 35 miles per hour. Because of the blind curve the trains could not see each other, nor could the passenger train’s whistle be heard.

At 6:18 am the two trains meet with a deafening crash. It was said that the sound of the crash was heard as far as 5 miles away. Many of those who died was from the fires that spread through the wooden cars and not through the crash. Trains at that time was powered by fire broilers that produced the steam that made them run.

Mary Johnston Ambler lived near the crash site and hearing the trains collide rush to the scene to offer assistance. She worked throughout the day and into the night helping the injured and dying. Her house was used as a emergency hospital. Later the railroad built a station near the location of the wreck and the town that formed around it took the name Ambler.

At the time this was the worst train accident in the short history of railroading. Reports have it as between 59 and 67 died as a result of the crash with over 100 injured. The Conductor of the passenger train, full of guilt and remorse killed himself that night.


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1 Comment so far
  1. Jaume Rivell December 24, 2009 8:18 pm

    This certainly was a hidious disaster. My long lost little cousin Lewis Rivell, aged 10 years old, was among the dead from this calamity.

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