New Market Train Wreck

The No. 15 crashed head-on into the eastbound No. 12 train due to the unannounced schedule change.

At that time, railroads had no block signals to control the rail traffic, and the trains operated on only a single track, making scheduling errors extremely dangerous. The collision of the two trains smashed the baggage and express cars on the eastbound No.12. On the westbound No.15 train, the baggage and express cars and one coach were destroyed. Every coach in the eastbound train was demolished, with the exception of the Pullman sleeping cars. Death was instantaneous in the majority of cars (many of the victims were either decapitated or otherwise horribly mangled) and splintered timbers, iron, and steel were piled in chaotic masses over the rails, mingling with human bodies.

The track the two trains were traveling on was a single track, so the usual procedure was for the local train (Number15) to pull off on a side track at a place called Hodges Switch, located between New Market and Strawberry Plains, in order for the larger train to pass. But when Number 15 pulled into Morristown that day, they received orders to do something different. They were told to stop at a side track in New Market instead of Hodges Switch until the Carolina Special had passed. Both the conductor and the engineer signed they had read the new orders. Number 15 proceeded on and stopped in New Market to pick up more passengers. The train should have then traveled only a few hundred feet to the side track and then pulled off. It didn’t.

The trains met on New Market Hill; the special managed to gather speed on the upgrade and was travelling at 60 mph; the local on the downgrade was trying to make up lost time and reached 70 mph; when they saw each other the emergency brakes were applied but the trains collided at a combined speed of over 100mph (though a contemporary source says 70 mph) and the crash could be heard 15 miles away. Both engineers were killed. The locomotive and coal-tender of the local train were catapulted into the air, turning upside down they sailed over the Special's engine, tender and baggage cars, landing squarely on top of the wooden passenger cars which were also struck from behind by the weight of the sturdy steel Pullman cars, which remained relatively undamaged. It was all over in seven seconds, death coming quickly to most, with many of the victime decapitated or horribly mangled, "splintered timbers, iron, and steel were piled in chaotic masses over the rails, mingling with human remains. When news of the crash reached Knoxville, a relief train was organised to bring doctors and medical supplies to the site and take the injured to Knoxville General Hospital. Reporters also managed to board the train and many photographs of the scene were taken Estimates as to the death toll vary from 56 (with 106 injured) up to 113 dead