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Derailed Train Jumps Back on the Rails (1941)

On December 18, 1940, the Illinois Central Railroad introduced its new 7-car coach streamliner diesel train, which was named the City of Miami, whose route was from Chicago and Miami.

Yet, the train was nearly lost while traveling just south of Columbus, Georgia on May 22, 1941. At around 6:30 AM, while traveling northbound and going over a crossing at Brennan Road, one of the rails beneath the train split in two, resulting in the derailment of the back wheels of one of its passenger cars. The wheels scraped against the track, causing the heads of the rail spikes to shear off and scatter in various directions like shrapnel. A deafening sound and a cloud of dust filled the air.

Unaware that one of the cars had derailed, the conductor kept the train going as it crossed the trestle over Bull Creek, which stood at an estimated 40 feet (12.2 m) above the water’s surface. The track then curved 45 degrees, and at about one-half mile (0.8 km) from where it first derailed, the rail line merged with another track.

Uh oh!

In one of those against-all-odds situations, the derailed truck hit both a guard rail and a frog – a piece of trackwork that allow a train’s wheels to cross from one track to another – and jumped right back onto the track and continued on its way.

T. E. Bazeman, the section foreman, later said, “Had the frog been facing the other way, nothing in the world could have kept it from going over, since the frog in that position would have veered it farther to the right and derailed the whole train.”

E. E. Harbuck was working at the Consolidated Gravel company, about 100 yards (91.4 m) below the spot where the train first derailed, saw the flying debris, and immediately called railroad officials. Around the same time, a train loaded with 600 troops from nearby Fort Benning was approaching the scene of the accident.  Motorist H. W. Corbett then jumped out of his car and flagged down the train, causing it to stop just in time.  Another train, the Seminole, stopped right behind the troop train, followed by a freight train that screeched to a halt.  All three trains would have to wait at least an hour until the track was repaired.

Postcard of the City of Miama streamliner train. Wikipedia image.

The next day, Claude R. Baldwin, superintendent of the Central of Georgia, Columbus district, told the Columbus Ledger:

“Railroad men knew nothing of the train’s derailment yesterday until it had come and gone. The train was stopped, however, at Opelika [Alabama—approximately 30 miles (48.3 km) away] and the crew instructed to make a thorough examination as to whether it had been the “City of Miami” which had left the tracks.

“The crew found that the rear wheel next to the last coast had been off the track, marks on it indicating that it had rubbed against the side of the rail.

“A careful examination of the rail that broke shows it was a new break. There was little damage to the track and none to the Streamliner.  The speed of the train at the time it jumped the tracks was approximately 30 miles per hour (48.3 km/h). “The train arrived at Birmingham eight minutes late, and Jackson, Tenn, four minutes late.  There were no other late reports.”

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