As with the Granville Rear-End Accident of twenty years earlier, a number of accidents on the "L" system were the result of mingling the trains of two different railroads on the same right-of-way. But unlike the aforementioned Granville Accident, this accident involved an "L" train colliding with a North Shore interurban instead of vice versa, as was more often the case.
In the morning and evening rush hour, the North Shore Line ran an extraordinary number of trains to and from the Loop on the "L", with runs scheduled to leave every several minutes. In a one hour period in 1956, the schedule of departures from Adams & Wabash, the North Shore Line's main downtown station, was as follows:
All this, plus rush hour CTA service, including Evanston Expresses!
On this particular Monday, the six-car Milwaukee Limited out of Adams & Wabash at 5:06pm - the 'Liner Follower - arrived at Wilson station on schedule at 5:28pm. The North Shore crew had just finished loading and alighting passengers and was preparing to leave when an eight-car CTA "L" train crashed into the interurban at an estimated 15 mph.
The 6000-series "L" car was crushed against the back of the heavier interurban. The rapid transit car's front was pushed in and the vehicle's front was lifted about two inches off the rails. The CTA motorman was pinned in the compressed "L" cab, suffering broken bones and internal injuries. Doctors and rescue personnel were unable to reach him through the jagged, mangled car body. Workers from the Wilson Shops brought cutting torches and crowbars to the scene to help pry the motorman, who was losing blood rapidly, from the cab.
The North Shore Line train was moved a car length ahead to allow the rescuers, shop personnel, and firemen - who raised their ladders from the street to the track level - room to cut away part of the front of the "L" car. Doctors were finally able to reach the injured CTA motorman and administered morphine and blood transfusions. Meanwhile, firemen were busy bringing injured CTA passengers down from the train to ambulances waiting outside the station at Wilson and Broadway. At 10:57pm, the motorman was finally freed from the cab of the "L" train and put onto a stretcher. He was then carried down through the station to a waiting ambulance.
During the rescue efforts, trains were rerouted through Wilson onto the other tracks, more or less maintaining the normal schedule. The NSL train involved in the accident had to remain on the scene, so another train was dispatched to Wilson to pick up the passengers and head to Milwaukee.
The initial injury numbers reported were that approximately 160 "L" riders were injured, but none of the North Shore passengers sustained any effects, probably due to the heavier construction of those cars. This, however, was later revised to eight deaths (presumably because some passengers later died from their injuries) and approximately 200 injuries.
A Cook County coroner's jury concluded that the accident was entirely the fault of the CTA motorman for not watching out for the stopped North Shore Line interurban. The elevated lines at this time were not equipped with any automatic block signals and motormen were expected to operate "on sight". It is not entirely clear, however, why the CTA motorman did not see the rather substantial North Shore Line train stopped at the station.
The jury recommended that the CTA install an automatic block signal system on its elevated lines similar to those already in use in the State Street and Milwaukee-Dearborn Subways. Though it would take nearly another twenty years, the CTA actually installed a more sophisticated cab signal system on the elevated. (For more on signals, see the Wayside Signals page.)
For those who take interest in the "L" rolling stock and tracking car numbers, there is an interesting epilogue to this story.
The car that was at the front of the train in this accident was 6000-series car 6288. As described above, the front of the car was completely smashed in and the operating cab was destroyed. Six months earlier, in May 1956, car 6271 had been extensively damaged in a fire on the center storage track near the University station on the Jackson Park branch. Car 6288 was damaged enough so as to be unusable, but its mate, 6287, was fine and was temporarily operated with 6272 (since its mate, 6271, was similarly unusable) from November 1956 to April 1957. (Such out-of-numerical-sequence pairings are relatively uncommon on the "L".)
Car 6271 was mostly unsalvageable, except for its #1 (front) end. The front section of 6271 was spliced onto the front of damaged car 6288 by Skokie Shops crews in April 1957. The newly-repaired 6288 was repaired with mate 6287 that month and the original pair was placed back into operation.
The remainder of car 6271 was scrapped, except for the trucks, and a new car body was constructed using surplus salvaged parts from the PCC streetcars that had been (and were to be) used in the assembly of cars 6201-6720. This reconstructed car was called 6271 (II) - though the car number on the side simply said "6271" - and it was repaired with 6272 in April 1957.
Campbell, George V., North Shore Line Memories, Northbrook, IL: Domus Books, 1980.
Keevil, Walter R. and Norman Carlson (editors), Chicago's Rapid Transit Volume II: Rolling Stock/1947-1976 (CERA Bulletin 115), Chicago: Central Electric Railfans' Association, 1976.
Young, David M. Chicago Transit: An Illustrated History, DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1998.