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This Day in History: The Union Sqaure Wreck of 1991

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On this day in 1991, a (4) train derailed while apporaching 14th St-Union Sqaure, killing 5 and injuring over 200. Here is an article from the NY Times the day after the crash.





THE SUBWAY CRASH; IRT Driver Charged in 5 Deaths; Crash Shuts Line and Ties Up City




Published: August 29, 1991



The subway motorman whose train derailed early yesterday in a crush of sheared metal and battered passengers was charged with manslaughter last night. The police said he had been drunk when he ran his train across a switch at high speed.


Five people were killed and more than 200 injured in the crash, the worst New York subway disaster in 63 years. It plunged the city's transit system into chaos and left the Lexington Avenue IRT, the system's second-busiest line, so torn up that officials said it could be several days before it is running again.


The motorman, Robert Ray, had walked away from the scene at Union Square station uninjured and was picked up near his home in the Bronx five hours later.


Beers After Crash


Police Commissioner Lee P. Brown said an alcohol test showed that Mr. Ray was legally drunk.


Mr. Ray told the police he had had three beers after the crash. But Mr. Brown said the police believe he was drunk at the time of the accident based on the alcohol test and reports from passengers that the motorman was running the train erratically.


The train's conductor and an off-duty Transit Authority worker riding the train each warned the motorman before the crash that he was driving too fast, said the Chief of Detectives for Manhattan, Joseph Borrelli.

Mr. Ray was also tested for drugs, but the test results were not immediately released. An empty vial with traces of crack was found in his cab after the accident, authorities said.


Commuter Chaos


The Lexington Avenue line was shut from the Bowling Green Station, at the southern tip of Manhattan, to 86th Street, sending thousands of commuters scrambling to find other ways to get to work. Some jammed into extra buses pressed into service on East Side avenues. Many others, discouraged by the crush, trudged to work on foot, and some arrived hours late.


Some of the passengers on the southbound train said the motorman had been speeding. There was preliminary evidence that the train was going too fast when it derailed while switching from the express to the local tracks about 100 yards north of the station, transit officials said at a City Hall news conference.


An automatic safety device designed to stop a train from going too fast through the switch appeared to have been tripped, the transit officials said. It was not known yesterday why the device did not halt the train.


The Lexington Avenue line, second only to the E and F lines in Queens in passenger volume, is the East Side's only subway line. It could be shut for several days, said Alan F. Kiepper, the Transit Authority's president. The line carries about 425,000 people an hour during an average rush hour, transit officials said. Investigators at Site

City, state and Federal transit investigators pored over the crash site yesterday. Mr. Kiepper said the wreckage from the 10-car train would not be removed until the investigators finished their work. It would then take at least 24 hours to clear the site and resume service on the line, he said.


The accident occurred at 12:10 A.M. as the train was switching from the express to the local tracks, a shift that early morning trains southbound on the Lexington line have been doing all month for track maintenance and repair work, transit officials said.


The front of the first car was clearing the switch and turning onto the local track when the car jumped from the tracks, authorities said. It veered right, striking the western wall of the subway tunnel, and then caromed left, slashing through more than a dozen steel beams, according to transit officials, emergency workers and passengers.


Most of the first car was sheared in half, lengthwise. Most of the front of the car was also severed from the rest of the train, coming to rest with its front wheels jutting into the air just 10 to 15 yards from the station platform.


The next four cars also derailed, with the third and fourth cars sustaining the most damage. The cars jumped into the air, and were crushed together in a tangled metal mass. They came to rest perpendicular to the tracks, transit officials and passengers said. "It's a mangle of steel," said Sgt. Luis Medina, a spokesman for the transit police. "It's hard to tell which car went where."


'Twisted Wreckage'


The two cars were so compacted that investigators had to look at the serial numbers on the seats to determine which car they belonged to.


Two police officers were on the train, and at least two others were at the Union Square Station. In the dark, smoky tunnel, they rushed to help the passengers. Emergency medical crews, backup police officers and firefighters arrived within minutes.


"There is twisted wreckage, metal sticking out, bodies, body parts, the train is teetering at points," said Capt. Bill Olsen of the city's Emergency Medical Service, as he inhaled deeply while taking a break on the street. "It's hot, smoky. There are fumes and soot all over. There's nothing left but little shreds of metal."


Sgt. Juan Garcia of the Police Department's emergency service unit said bodies were strewn about. One landed on top of a car, said the sergeant, who added that he had found a shoe with a foot in it lying on the track.


It took nearly four hours to remove all those trapped in the twisted metal. About 138 passengers were sent to 12 hospitals in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, transit officials said. Another 77 passengers were treated at the scene and sent home. Transit officials estimated that 500 people were aboard the train.


Chief Borrelli said that about 20 passengers were admitted to hospitals, one of whom was critical, The Associated Press reported.


Eight police officers and six firefighters were also taken to the hospital, overcome by carbon monoxide spewed out by generators placed on the tracks to power emergency lights and equipment to cut passengers free.


Passengers who were not seriously injured stumbled from the train, dazed. Many marveled at their good fortune. "I thought it was the end of the world," said Joseph Dowers, a passenger from Crown Heights in Brooklyn. "Everyone was thrown, and I ended up crumpled up about three to four feet from the front of the train." The first few feet of the front car survived the crash intact, all but unscratched.


Motorman Leaves Scene


Others were not so lucky. Steven Darden, a 33-year-old Transit Authority employee, was buried under a pile of steel in the second or third car, according to several rescue workers. The subway car was crushed and wedged around him.


Lieut. Jonathan Pistilli of the Emergency Medical Service said he had noticed Mr. Darden's left arm protruding from the wreckage. He assumed Mr. Darden was dead, Lieutenant Pistilli said, until he saw the arm move. He stayed in the oppressively hot tunnel for three hours tending to Mr. Darden, as medical workers gave him fluid intravenously and rescue crews worked to pry him loose.


Mr. Darden was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center, where he was listed in stable condition with a fractured arm and trauma.


The police said the five dead were Jimmie Robles, 39 years old, of Brooklyn; Victor Lewis, 36, of Manhattan; Audrey Pascal, 39 of Brooklyn; Delores Pryce, 37, of Brooklyn, and Richard Limehouse, 41, of Far Rockaway, Queens.


Once the rescues were completed, police and transit officials turned their attention to investigating the cause of the accident. They searched for Mr. Ray, the motorman, and found him at 5:35 A.M. near his home at 10 Richman Plaza in Morris Heights, transit officials said.


Immediately after the accident, two police officers talked with Mr. Ray on the platform of the station, said Mr. Kiepper, the Transit Authority's president.


The motorman told the officers that he was all right, and the officers rushed into the subway tunnel to help passengers, Mr. Kiepper said. Mr. Ray apparently then left the station, a violation of Transit Authority procedure, Mr. Kiepper said. The crew is supposed to remain at the scene to help evacuate passengers.


Mr. Ray had previously been tested twice for drugs by the Transit Authority, and was found to be drug-free each time, Mr. Kiepper said. He was tested in June 1988, when he was promoted to motorman, Mr. Kiepper said, as required by the authority's regulations.


Mr. Ray was also tested in January after he ran a red signal while operating a train at 167th Street, Mr. Kiepper said. He was suspended without pay for three days for the violation, said Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the Transport Workers Union.


Late to Work


Mr. Ray, who was driving his customary route yesterday, reported late to work, causing the train to run a few minutes late, Mr. Kiepper said. He drove erratically as he headed south from the Woodlawn Station in the Bronx, according to both passengers and transit officials. He allowed the train's front cars to overrun the front of at least two station platforms, forcing passengers in the back of the stations to dash for the rear cars and passengers inside the front cars to scramble toward the back to exit the train.


The train's conductor, who was not identified by transit or police officials, said he twice asked the motorman over the intercom if he was feeling all right, said Thomas Prendergast, a senior vice president of the Transit Authority. Mr. Ray said he was fine, and he apparently did not overshoot any stations in Manhattan.


A conductor who thinks a train is not operating under proper control can radio the command station, Mr. Prendergast said. In an emergency, the conductor can even tell the command station to shut off power on the line. It was not clear whether the conductor on Mr. Ray's train attempted to have it stopped.


Fellow motormen and conductors who work with Mr. Ray said last night that they never saw him drinking on the job and that he was the last person they would expect to use crack. They commented at the transit dispatcher station at the Woodlawn subway station in the Bronx. Mr. Ray's colleagues, who refused to give their names, described him as a very friendly, happy-go-lucky man who was always telling jokes.



NYTimes Article about the derailment.


NYCTF Thread from last year regarding the Union Sq Wreck.

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He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Good for him.


Also, some pics of the train:







Edited by Brett
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You know I could never understand why the conductor, that off duty MTA civil servant on board or the passengers on that train never did something to stop that train. In a bizzare case like this where the driver was clearly operating this train erratically. Never got that. I got the code of silence issue with alcohol abuse on the clock, OK, but still....

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I know it's just based on the pic, but how badly damaged was 1436? It looked like just a front end damage and a side gash. Could it have been kept around as a spare instead of being scrapped (or was it sent to the FDNY training center)?

Edited by Grand Concourse

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I know it's just based on the pic, but how badly damaged was 1436? It looked like just a front end damage and a side gash. Could it have been kept around as a spare instead of being scrapped (or was it sent to the FDNY training center)?



I think it was reefed.

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I think it was reefed.



According to Wikipedia:

"Cars 1435, 1436, 1437, 1439 and 1440 were wrecked in this accident, and are now all scrapped and off MTA property. The remaining five cars of the consist (cars 1431, 1432, 1433, 1434 and 1438) are now unitized."

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Seriously, with such a safety sensitive job who in their right mind would drink and use drugs before reporting for work...some people just don't have no damn sense....

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Seriously, with such a safety sensitive job who in their right mind would drink and use drugs before reporting for work...some people just don't have no damn sense....



S--T happens to everyone, in every job, we're all only human... If your abusing a substance, your not thinking straight to begin with.. Not justfying his actions in any way, but its the way life goes.

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