Monday Marks Anniversary of Train Wreck

The Byrn Athyn train wreck took the lives of 27 people, left 70 injured and changed America forever.

Monday will mark the 90th anniversary “the Byrn Athyn train wreck” that claimed the lives of 27 people and injured 70.The Southampton Railroad Station Society will be holding a commemoration event Monday at 10 a.m. at the Bryn Athyn Post Office, which is located near the site of the accident and formerly served as a Reading Railroad train station. On hand at the event, numerous descendants of the victims of the wreck, who will share first hand accounts of the accident as relayed to them by the survivors.On that fateful snowy morning in 1921, Train No. 156 and Train No. 151 collided head-on at full speed in a rock-sided curve in the Bryn Athyn section of Upper Moreland, between the Southampton and Bryn Athyn train stations.During the collision, the two locomotives upended sending flaming coal raining down on the wooden passenger cars filled with people. The rocky cliffs on either side of the crash site acted as walls, trapping victims in the fiery wreckage.“The first crash did not kill many but the death total rose as the flames reached the helpless victims imprisoned in the wreckage,” according to Associated Press reports from December 5, 1921, the day of the crash.Rescue workers, who had trouble getting aid and water to the scene due to the terrain and weather conditions, worked to save passengers, but for many passengers it was already too late.Shorlty after the wreck, Southanmpton-resident Forrest Belman, who survived, told the AP the locomotives and coach cars were piled together, catching fire almost immediately after the collision. Survivors were forced to fight the flames and crawl through the mangled train car windows to escape, he described to the wire service.Some of the victim’s bodies, many of which were charred beyond recognition, were buried at the cemetery next to the North & Southampton Reformed Churchin Churchville.The crash drew media attention from around the globe and caused wood-framed passenger rail cars to be banned in America.The train tracks, where the crash occurred, carried passengers until the mid-1980s when SEPTA shut-down service on the Newtown Line.Today, the tracks sit covered by browned leaves and fallen branches; nothing more than memories mark the site of one of the worst rail disasters in American history.Information for this story was gathered from Associated Press reports, Bryn Athyn Fire Company, Bucks County Gazette, New York Times and Old York Road Historical Society.


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