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Mayhem on the tracks: Disaster and misfortune on the subway

New York City's subway riders have experienced their share of mayhem and misfortune. There have been deadly derailments and tunnel collapses as well as sporadic acts of violence by commuters against their fellow straphangers. Most travel is uneventful and straphangers have little to worry about. But when something goes wrong underground, it can often end tragically.

1918: The worst train disaster in subway history

On Nov. 1, 1918, a train consisting of
Photo Credit: NYCTA File Photo

On Nov. 1, 1918, a train consisting of five wooden cars careened off the tracks at what was then Malbone Street in Brooklyn, shattering into splinters, killing 97 people and injuring over 200 others. "The passengers in the first car were crushed and cut to pieces,” The New York Times reported at the time. It was later determined that the motorman was a train dispatcher with little experience running a train. He had been forced into the job because of a motorman strike.
Location: Malbone Street (now Empire Boulevard) in Brooklyn.

1927: Bombings at 28th Street

Three days after Massachusetts Gov. Alvan T. Fuller
Photo Credit: Flickr/jpellgen

Three days after Massachusetts Gov. Alvan T. Fuller denied requests for clemency from execution for anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, bombs went off at two subway stations on 28th Street in Manhattan. No one was killed, but many were injured. The investigation into the New York City bombings immediately focused on sympathizers of Sacco and Vanzetti, while the entire 14,000-member police force was put on bomb duty. Radical groups denied they were involved.

1965: The fatal stabbing of Andrew Mormile

The fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Andrew Mormile on
Photo Credit: Screengrab

The fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Andrew Mormile on March 12, 1965 during an altercation with two other teenagers on an A train in Brooklyn galvanized public attention around subway safety. In particular, there was much criticism of the lack of safety features for calling for help on subway cars. Mayor Robert F. Wagner responded by saying he would post armed police officers on every station and platform in the city.
Location:
Broadway-East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

1984: The subway vigilante

Bernard H. Goetz quickly became known as the
Photo Credit: Newsday

Bernard H. Goetz quickly became known as the “subway vigilante” after shooting four young black men on a downtown No. 2 train on Dec. 22, 1984. The shooting launched debates about how much leeway citizens should have in defending themselves during a time when crime seemed to be spiraling out of control. It also touched a nerve when a mostly white jury in Manhattan acquitted Goetz, who was also white, of attempted murder and other charges in 1987. He was later sued by his victims and forced to declare bankruptcy.

1991: Derailment at Union Square

Five people were killed and 200 others injured
Photo Credit: Flickr/Wally Gobetz

Five people were killed and 200 others injured when a train derailed at the Union Square station on Aug. 28, 1991. The operator of the train was drunk at the time, and was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years. The accident was one of several high-profile transportation accidents at the time that prompted the U.S. Congress to pass legislation requiring drug and alcohol testing of operators in the transportation industries.

1994: Firebombing during Christmas season

On Dec. 21, 1994, a computer analyst with
Photo Credit: NYPD handout

On Dec. 21, 1994, a computer analyst with a grudge against the subway system named Edward J. Leary set off a firebomb in a mayonnaise jar on a No. 4 train crowded with Christmas shoppers. The fireball injured nearly 50 people, some seriously, including Leary. He was sentenced to 94 years in prison. “Evil exists in the world,” the judge said at the sentencing. “And we are looking at it in the person of Edward Leary.”

2001: World Trade Center attacks

The collapse of the World Trade Center site
Photo Credit: New York City Transit

The collapse of the World Trade Center site in the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, led to massive destruction of the subway tunnel that served the 1/9 lines just below. A 1,500-foot section of tunnel south of Cortland Street was destroyed and steel beams from the trade center buildings rammed through the track bed.
Location: Cortlandt Street

2012: Pushed to death

On Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, Sunando Sen was
Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

On Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, Sunando Sen was looking out at the tracks at the 40th Street-Lowery Street station in Sunnyside, Queens, when a woman came up and shoved him onto the tracks. The 46-year-old man was crushed by an oncoming train as the woman fled. Erika Menendez, then 31, was accused of pushing Sen and faces a second-degree murder charge. Authorities say she made a statement indicating she hated Muslims and Hindus. Her next court date is March 24.
Location: 40th Street-Lowery Street, Sunnyside, Queens.

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